The Phoenix Suns are one win away from the NBA Finals.
With their bruising 84-80 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on Saturday night, the Suns took a crucial three games to one advantage in the series and have a chance to close it on Monday in Game 5 in Phoenix.
It was a difficult shooting night for both teams, as the Suns shot 31-of-86 (36.0 percent) from the field and 4-of-20 (20 percent) from 3-point range while the Clippers shot 27-of-83 (32.5 percent) overall and 5-of-31 (16.1 percent) from beyond the arc. Phoenix won an ugly fourth quarter, 15-14, as both teams made seven combined field goals.
The Suns were led by starting center Deandre Ayton, who had 19 points on 8-of-14 shooting along with 22 rebounds, the third-most boards by a player in the postseason in franchise history. Nine of Ayton’s rebounds came on the offensive end, helping generate 13 second-chance points.
Here is what Suns coach Monty Williams said about his team’s victory.
On how proud he was of his team for closing out the game and his thoughts on being one win away from the NBA Finals:
“Well, it’s something we’ve tried to rely on all season long, is just having that attitude of not giving in and being relentless in a number of areas. But our poise was tested tonight, and I thought we fared well responding to their third quarter. When we couldn’t score and the ball was going in-and-out, we were able to get enough stops and I thought it was a great response to the talk we had yesterday about competing. We competed at the highest level that I’ve seen from us all season long, especially on the defensive end. And we just have to have a great deal of balance with our emotions and handle this the right way, not get too far ahead. Yes, we are one win away from where we want to go but we got to look at the film, prepare even better and step-by-step, pound the rock over the next couple of days so that we can be better when we play this team again. Because we know we’re going to see a desperate team.”
On Game 4 being a difficult victory:
“Yeah, no doubt. I mean, playing a team like that in front of a crowd like that and constantly seeing your shots go in-and-out, in-and-out, in-and-out. That was a testament to the character and integrity and toughness of our guys. Every timeout, it was all about defense. Nobody was talking about anything from the offensive end nor should we, because we couldn’t score it. We just couldn’t put it in the hole. And I thought (starting center) Deandre’s (Ayton) presence, his effort, the rebounding, the shot-blocking, his communication on defense, switching out on smaller guys and being able to guard them. He was the catalyst tonight on the defensive end. I thought it was an unreal performance from him and then our guys rallied around him.
“And then the execution down the stretch to be able to foul when we needed to, box out, hit the free throws necessary to win the game — it’s the stuff you work on all season long. A lot of it paid off tonight, especially when you couldn’t score the ball. That was a slugfest, that’s what playoff basketball is all about. So I’m just proud of our team but also in the mode of getting our minds right and preparing for a tough game, because we know that’s what it’s going to be.”
On how the Suns kept ahead of the Clippers despite their offensive struggles:
“Yeah, it was unreal, right? It wasn’t on offense, one-on-one, for sure. But the poise, we’ve been talking about it all season long, understanding that they were going to make that kind of run. We didn’t think that we were going to miss that many shots but one of our pillars is defense. I think every NBA team has a pillar that revolves around defense, and tonight, it was on display. They missed some shots, but I feel like the pressure over the course of the game, when you compete like that, everybody’s tired. And so it wasn’t a surprise to me to see that many shots missed but again, I thought DA’s ability to anchor the middle and then his ability to switch out onto guys and guard, there was a skirmish under the basket where the ball was bouncing all over the place and it was, DA was right in the middle and I think somebody tried to shoot the ball under the basket and he just swatted it. I thought his fingerprints were all over that side of the ball tonight.”
On the poise of the Suns in this game with their defense:
“We’ve been in these situations but certainly not on this stage, where you have a decent lead and all you’re thinking is, ‘Let’s just maintain it or increase it.’ They came out in the third quarter and scored 30 points. We had 19. So at that point, you’re just relying on your defense, relying on execution, but you’re also relying on the mental stamina that we’ve been talking about for two years. We saw it on display tonight. Every time (Suns starting point guard) Chris (Paul) and I made eye contact, he was like, both of us were like, ‘We’re good, we’re good.’ That kind of thing. Him more than me in those situations, but we’ve been talking about it — it’s just really cool to see our guys put that type of mental stamina on display, on the road in a cool environment… just stay the course.”
On backup forward Abdel Nader’s return to the rotation over backup forward Torrey Craig:
“I just think we need what he brings to the table. It’s a tough spot for him to be in. I thought the drive he had on (Clippers forward Luke) Kennard from the corner, that’s who he is. That’s a tough first game to come back in, but I like the fact that he can guard, he can rebound, he’s a big body, he moves his feet. And we think he’s going to be able to help us moving forward.”
On how Paul’s late free throws and poise encapsulated what he has meant to this team:
“My job’s not easy, by any stretch. But when you have Chris in those moments, there’s a level of trust that we both have. I know he wants the ball, I know he’ll go get it. And not many guys are willing to go up to that line with confidence and knock those free throws down. When he missed the one, I know he wanted to — he was pretty tough on himself. Even at that point, I was pretty confident in what we were doing as far as fouling and not allowing them to get off a 3(-pointer). But there’s a great deal of trust in those moments, and (Suns starting shooting guard) [Devin Booker] wasn’t out there with him. Usually, we have both of those guys and (starting forward) Jae (Crowder) as an inbounder. And (starting forward) Mikal (Bridges) is in the middle, so you have him as a safety. But Chris wants the ball in that situation.”
On his trust with Paul late in the game:
“Just done it so many times. He did it when we were in New Orleans, he’s done it with us this season. When he was with other teams, he was always the guy to go get the ball. So he was not afraid of those moments. It’s all about winning for Chris. It could have been taking a charge, it could have been — it just so happened to be a free-throw situation. It’s something we work on, it’s something we walk through. But those guys like Chris just want the ball in those situations because they want to win the game. It’s not about anything else but winning the game.”
On the Suns recording 17 offensive rebounds, including nine from Ayton, when they struggled from the field:
“I mean, if you’re going to miss that much, you hope to get some of them back. DA’s ability to keep balls in play without going over the back, he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen at getting up in the air and reaching over and tipping it to himself. But to your point, to have that many guys or three guys get that many offensive rebounds is huge for us. It’s something that I was not comfortable with before this season, going to the boards that much. I would always get three, four guys back. (Suns assistant coach) Kevin Young has pretty much forced us to do it, and it’s really helped us this year, unleashing (forwards) Cam (Johnson) and Mikal and Torrey (Craig) has been really good at that this season for us, to get us extra possessions. So it was certainly valuable for us tonight with the way that we shot the ball.”
On playing grind-it-out games against the Clippers:
“In those moments, it’s not even about comfort level. It’s just about winning the game and doing whatever it takes. There was a game, I think, with Brooklyn had a game this year that was in the 70s, 80s. When you have playoff basketball and it’s physical and everybody knows your sets, sometimes you’re going to have a game like that. I’m just glad we won it. So I’m not quite sure I’m ever comfortable going into those situations, but I’m just glad we won it. And to be able to do it on the road is special. To your point, we haven’t had games like that this year where we just couldn’t put the ball in the basket. But I’m glad when we did have an output like that, we were able to win the game.”
On how he feels about the quality of shots the Suns are getting from 3-point range:
“They played really good defense on us. When you switch as well as they do, the reason teams switch is to take away the 3-point shot. That switching, in theory, keeps you out of rotation. Most threes are generated in transition off of pushing the ball or in pick-and-rolls where the big dives, you go help and you give up a three in the corner or the wing. So when you switch, you tend to not give up as many threes. And they switch as much as anybody in the league, other than Brooklyn. So I think that’s part of the deal. They got up more threes than we did tonight, but they probably take more off-the-dribble threes with (starting forward) Paul (George) and (starting guard) Reggie (Jackson) than most teams. So my hope is that we shoot the ball better the next game, but I hope our defense continues to hold form the way that it did tonight.”