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Monty Williams on Suns’ resiliency, Devin Booker’s scorching start in Game 6 win to eliminate Lakers

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Booker had 22 points in the first quarter and the Suns had timely responses throughout the game

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Here is what Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams said after his team’s 113-100 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 6 of its first-round series on Thursday night. Phoenix will play the third-seeded Denver Nuggets in the semifinal round of the Western Conference playoffs.

On starting shooting guard Devin Booker’s 22-point first-quarter en route to a season-high 47-point performance to beat the Lakers:

“It was one of those deals where he was feeling it, but our guys understood that he was feeling it. So we got a number of stops in the first quarter, they only scored 14 points so we were getting out and running. We had a conversation after Game 3 about, their defense is so good and they shift to the ball so well, he’s not going to get another look after the first one presents itself. So that was the mentality that we wanted him to have, and he’s a gifted scorer. But it was the shotmaking and then the stops on top of that probably deflated them a little bit in the first half, but it was an impressive first half.

“To do that in a closeout game is really cool. So I was happy for him, happy for our team and certainly happy to be moving on.”

On Booker playing a season-high 46 minutes:

“In the second half, especially when they went small, I didn’t want to take any chances taking him off the floor. One, he draws a double team and two, he was getting to the paint. But players like Book have a determination about them, and I’ve said this about him a number of times: He doesn’t run from the moment. And in this particular moment, the moment was the whole game.”

On his message to his team at halftime and between the third and fourth quarters as the Lakers were cutting into the Suns’ lead:

“The thing that was hurting us was our transition defense. We had a few dead balls where they beat us down the floor, and that was something that should never happen against our team. And our guys knew it. I asked them at halftime, what was their input? And one of the things they said was, ‘Transition defense.’ So that was the focus. We don’t score, like we got to get back. The Lakers threw everything, every defense you can imagine and they (had) two different types of zones. They trapped us a little bit, they switched and so they caused some havoc in that regard. But transition defense was what we talked about at halftime and in between the quarter breaks.”

On his emotions behind the Suns eliminating the defending champion Lakers after posting a three years 19-63 record the year before his arrival:

“You do feel a level of excitement because winning in the NBA is really hard, as it relates to one game. But to win a series, you have to enjoy that. And walking off the floor and (Suns owner) Robert (Sarver) and (Suns general manager) James (Jones) and (Sarver’s wife) Penny sitting right there, Robert was the first one to grab me to hug me, and that’s when it kind of set in that we moved the program in a place where we want to be. But at the same time, my mind’s already moved towards the next thing that we have to do, and that’s preparing for Denver. So that’s just my mindset. I’m grateful for what our players do every single day, I’m grateful for these opportunities. But I’m also pushing my mindset forward so we can get ready for the preparations and all the stuff that the coaches have to do in the next few days to get ready for the next round. I hope our fans are excited and appreciate what’s happening, because it is a blessing to be a part of this journey with this team.”

On Booker’s growth since he arrived in Phoenix:

“He’s one of those guys that wants to move himself in the ‘elite’ class, and he believes he’s one of the best players in the league. He doesn’t believe there’s a better player at his position, for sure, and I’m certain that he believes he’s one of the top players. And this is where you get to show it — in the playoffs. So this is the moment that he wanted, I’m sure he’s looking forward to the next one. And I’m watching him on the fly go from a guy who scored a ton of points — now, he’s turning into a guy who can lead a team in the playoffs and be in a different class.”

On how defeating the Lakers can give the Suns confidence:

“Every game in the playoffs has a life of its own, every series does. So we feel good about winning the series. It certainly is cool to beat the defending champs, for sure. But again, you can only hold on to that for so long and now, you have to move towards another worthy opponent. But to your point, I understand what our city and their feelings and the games in the past and the series in the past with the Lakers — I get that. I wasn’t a part of it, but I certainly embrace, as a caretaker of the program, I embrace it now. And so it is pretty cool to beat the defending champs and do it here. I’m sure our fans are excited about the fact we closed a series in [Los Angeles].”

On what was most impressive about the growth of his younger players after the Suns fell behind 2-1 in the series:

“Typically, you don’t see young players play this way in these kinds of environments, so it says a lot about their character, integrity. But it also speaks to the season we’ve had. We’ve had a lot of close games against really good teams, on the road, at home. Just the Milwaukee game up there (on April 19) was one of those games that was like a playoff game, and I think we’ve had a number of games like that where our young guys got the experience against really good teams. So the carryover from that, I believe, has helped them and I’m almost positive (Suns starting point guard) Chris (Paul) and (starting power forward) Jae (Crowder) and (backup guards) E’Twaun (Moore) and Langston (Galloway) have been pouring into them about experiences and things they’ve learned over their careers.

“We’ve talked about being a relentless, resilient team all season long. I don’t think we would have been able to overcome that kind of deficit if we didn’t have vets around. Even when we were down 2-1, our vets from Chris and Jae and E’Twaun and Langston, those guys were steady. They didn’t lose their mental focus at all, and I think that was contagious. It’s probably my personality to just kind of take it one game at a time, so I think I’m most proud of that part. It didn’t look good after Game 3, I think everybody was kind of feeling it in Phoenix. But as a team, we knew we had one more game where we could change the series and we did, on the road. So I think our guys got a lot of confidence coming out of Game 4 that we could win this series.”

His thoughts on Lakers forward Anthony Davis attempting to play through his left groin strain:

“I felt bad for him, because I played hurt in this league and I understand what that’s like. But to be in this moment and not be your best is hard. I felt the same way for Chris when he had the shoulder stuff, and he’s still dealing with it. But I coached Anthony, we still talk and communicate. I’m going to his wedding this summer. When you’re that close to a player, even though you’re trying to win the game, you do feel for him. Because I know that look, I’ve had that before where you’re out there, trying to give it up for your team but you know your body’s not right. I’m just thankful he didn’t get hurt worse, so it was just one of those deals. I applaud his effort and I told him that. He showed who he is, that kind of character to stay in there and try to help his team when they could have packed it up. Everything he’s done in his career, guys like that, he probably didn’t have to play until next game. But he showed who he is and I wanted to let him know how much I appreciate him. And our relationship is bigger than basketball, so when you see him out there struggling like that, you do feel for him.”