Seconds after he posted a season-high 37 points on 14-of-19 shooting with seven assists and three rebounds in the Phoenix Suns’ 125-118 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday night, Chris Paul shared a long embrace with coach Monty Williams, a person who is “a lot more than a basketball coach” to him.
In many ways, that hug was an embodiment of how their relationship has come full circle. Williams led Paul in his first season as an NBA coach with the New Orleans Hornets in 2010-11. When Williams lost his wife to a car accident in 2016, he said Paul was there for him at “the darkest point of my life.”
And together they stood — Paul under Williams’ shoulder — as they took the Suns to the Western Conference Finals for the 10th time in franchise history and first instance since 2009-10.
“I got a chance to play for [Williams] that one year in New Orleans, and it was a special season,” Paul said. “I got some of my greatest relationships with guys off of playing that one year for him, and I don’t know. I don’t know, sometimes you have coaches that are just coaches. But sometimes, you have relationships that last a lifetime.”
Added Williams: “With Chris and I, for me to coach him my first year and then he went on to a different team, for us to be together again and be in that moment and know that we can accomplish more, it’s pretty cool. At the same time, I wanted to take a second to just feel that for a minute, feel that for a second with him.”
With the Suns’ win over the Nuggets, they have now won seven postseason consecutive games, their longest streak in franchise history. Williams has four times the amount of playoff wins in this run (eight) than he had in two with the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans in 2010-11 and 2014-15.
Paul will be participating in the Western Conference Finals for the second time in his career, with the only other moment coming with the Houston Rockets in 2017-18. Houston led that series against the Golden State Warriors three games to two, but Paul suffered a right hamstring injury in Game 5 and was not available as Golden State won the last two contests.
Paul and Williams will be looking to lead the Suns to their first NBA Finals appearance since 1992-93, when they lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games. The Suns are 2-7 in their history in Western Conference Finals appearances.
Here’s more of what Paul had to say after Phoenix’s series-clinching win.
On his emotions of advancing to the Western Conference Finals and sharing embraces with Williams, Nuggets coach Michael Malone and his family:
“I ain’t really had a chance to process it. It’s a lot of people on that team that I’m close to. Mike Malone is one of my favorite people in the world. Ryan Bowen, assistant coach for them, was a teammate of mine in New Orleans. To have my family here always means a lot.”
On the moment with Williams after the game:
“Man, it’s emotional. Mont has been through things in his life that a lot of people don’t necessarily come back from. The mental stamina, who he is as a person, basketball aside, he means so much to me and my family. To be on this journey with him and to see it paying off is nice. And we’re a lot alike, we stay locked in. Like, I don’t feel good until the buzzer sounds and Mont’s the same way. So when the series is over and the game is over, it’s nice to share those moments.”
On his crafty dribbling to create space in the third quarter and when he started doing that:
“I started that back in like 2007 when they tried to switch the balls on us, when they tried to switch the basketballs on us and it was like a different material. If I could throw that basketball way out and make it snap and come back to me. So then we switched back to the regular basketballs, it just — with me, I’m obviously not 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6, not the most athletic or whatnot. So I’ve always had to develop my ball handling and things like this to keep guys off balance.”
On what Williams has meant to him:
“Man, everything. Everything. I got a chance to play for Mont that one year in New Orleans, and it was a special season. I got some of my greatest relationships with guys off of playing that one year for him, and I don’t know. I don’t know, sometimes you have coaches that are just coaches. But sometimes, you have relationships that last a lifetime. Mike Malone was on that staff when I played for Monty, and Monty is a lot more than a basketball coach. So I appreciate him.”
On what drives him in his career still:
“Competition. Competition. Like, I don’t really play for anybody else or whatnot… I wasn’t this phenom, I wasn’t supposed to be here. I played two years of [junior varsity] basketball. It ain’t always been sweet for me. I’ve always had to grind, and I like that mentality. And that’s always been who I’ve been, and I’m going to stay that way. If you like it, cool, if you don’t, it’s cool too.
“I always say this: I know who I am. I know the type of work that I put in, and I’m grateful for my team around me. Like my family, my chef, Aaron, Ann, switching it over to DBC (Fitness) in (founder) Donnie (Raimon) and trainer [David Alexander] and everybody there at DBC man. I’ve got an unbelievable team, and then all you got to do is do the work. Put the work in and it’s exciting and it’s nice to be with a team that everybody has the same mindset.”
On what it’s like to see Booker have this moment in his career:
“This is my second time in the Western Conference Finals, so it’s dope. And we still got a long ways to go but to see his brother right there, I think his mom and his sister was here. Dad was here the last game. They, just like my family, have been here. They’ve been with you the longest, entire journey and they’ve seen the work that Book has put in year in and year out. And to see it paying off, I’m happy for him.”
On jumping from sixth to second in defensive efficiency in the postseason and the type of grown he has seen on that end:
“Man, a lot. A lot of growth. Like I said, it’s a shoutout to our coaches. We’re prepared every game, we’re prepared every game. Win or lose, one thing we won’t be is we won’t be underprepared. And just the attention to detail. We have slip-ups here and there, but the sign of a good team is when you can lock in defensively. And that’s where we try to hang our hat.”
On hitting several consecutive mid-range jumpers in Sunday’s game and when he started to feel like he got his touch back after he suffered his right shoulder contusion suffered in the first round:
“I’m good now. I’m good now, I don’t even remember. But I’m good now.”
On how much his shoulder injury was bothering his jumper before:
“I don’t know. I don’t know, we just, we got through that series. We good now.”
On summarizing his emotions of the win:
“I don’t know. You just try to stay in the moment. I mean, my teammates will tell you, it was 18 seconds on the clock and I was still on their ass. That’s just the way I am. Monty always talks about playoff games and the heartbreaks that you can have, and I’ve been a part of those heartbreaks, right? So I’m not comfortable until the clock says zero, zero on it. So a lot of things, haven’t really had time to process it. But I’m going to get on the bus and first and foremost, call my kids.”
On how much Booker means to him:
“I say it all the time man: If I don’t know nothing else, I know basketball. So when I saw that Phoenix was an opportunity to come play here, I knew what we’d be capable of because I know Book and I know how he competes and the energy that he plays with. It’s just dope to see everything come together since the trade happened. The day after I got traded, we was in the gym working together. And I think that says a lot about why we are where we are right now, is trust.”