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Monty Williams on Suns’ second-half explosion, Paul fourth quarter in Game 1 win over Nuggets

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Phoenix outscored Denver 59-33 after it trailed 72-63 with 7:34 left in the third quarter

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Here is what Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams said after his team’s 122-105 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Monday night at Phoenix Suns Arena.

On the Suns’ 17-9 run to start the fourth quarter after Denver had runs to begin each previous period:

“To start the game, I felt like we were a step slow with our communication, if that makes sense. To start the first, even in the second, we were in between on our calls, and so sometimes when switching opportunities presented themselves, we didn’t switch, and then when we were supposed to, we made a mistake and they just played in our paint. I think they had 30 points in the paint to start, that’s what I was most concerned with. Starting the game, the second quarter and even the beginning of the third, and then there came a moment midway through the third where we started getting consecutive stops and we were able to get out and play in transition. I thought the communication and the integrity of our defense to try to keep them out of our paint — because we were communicating a lot better — went to a different level for us. And then (starting forward) Mikal (Bridges), his shotmaking and his ability to get to the paint, the and-one and hitting threes, I thought that helped us in that moment and then (starting point guard) Chris (Paul) took over for a segment. (Starting center) [Deandre Ayton] was huge tonight, putting pressure on the rim.

“This team (Denver) will make you pay if you make a mistake, and at the beginning of the first and the second, they were making us pay because of the mistakes we made and they’re a good team.”

On the Suns’ transition offense, led by 18 points off 12 Denver turnovers:

“Again, I think the back side of our defense stepped up. I just remember Mikal getting steals on the back side and those live-ball turnovers, we can live in that environment with the speed and athleticism and the guards we have. It certainly helped us to be able to turn those turnovers into points, but there was a segment where we were getting consecutive stops, we were getting in steals in there, but we were also rebounding the ball. (Nuggets backup forwards) JaMychal Green, (Paul) Millsap and (starting forward Aaron) Gordon, those guys are a handful going to the offensive boards. So when we’re able to, as you said, get steals and turnovers, live-ball turnovers and rebound the ball, we can get out in transition and play in flow.”

On the Suns’ ball movement off screens in which Paul and starting shooting guard Devin Booker were blitzed:

“Early in the game, we were trying to make a few interior passes, and they do a really good job of taking away the paint. We want to touch the paint when we have the ball, but sometimes that play is outside. If you can knock down those corner threes, maybe that can loosen up the defense, I’m not quite sure. We’ll see as this series progresses, but it really helps having DA put that kind of pressure on the rim. It opens up a lot of offense for our team.”

On what keyed the Suns’ 25-7 run to end the third quarter and their spurt at the start of the fourth:

“Our players understood that we hadn’t played the kind of defense that we had talked about, and (Suns assistant) coach Willie Green re-iterated that point. He was encouraged because we hadn’t stepped our defense up to the level we wanted to play. They missed some shots, but I felt like our defense, as I said before, the communication, went up a level. We started talking earlier in situations, and that allowed for us to get stops and then play in transition. But I thought Willie Green did a really good job of calming the waters, talking to our guys about, ‘If we can get some consecutive stops and start playing defense the way that we know we can, maybe we can get out in transition, especially if we can get some live-ball turnovers or rebound the ball.’”

On what stood out to him most about Bridges’ performance:

“I thought he picked his spots well. When the shots presented themselves, especially after the first quarter or the first six minutes of the game, I thought we were trying to attack the paint and then make interior passes. He did a really good job of having balance tonight, taking threes when they presented themselves, but he also attacked the paint. And his back-side defense was pretty good tonight, he was able to get a big steal on (Nuggets starting guard) Austin (Rivers) out of a timeout, which is huge when you come out of a timeout and get a turnover. But I just thought he had really good balance tonight. He only got 12 shots and he had 23 points, he had five assists too. So for a guy we don’t call too many plays for, that’s a pretty efficient night.”

On Paul scoring 14 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter on 6-of-6 shooting:

“Chris has been in those moments so many times, I don’t think not making shots (earlier in the game) is going to rattle him. I think he’s more concerned with managing the game than he is with his shooting percentage. And in those moments, I thought we did a good job of spacing so he had room to operate and he can just make some big shots. That’s who he is, whether it’s facilitating, getting the ball to guys where they need it or in those moments, being able to knock down shots. But I think he’s more concerned with the management of the game, I don’t think he really cares about his shooting percentage. He doesn’t want to turn the ball over, he wants to make sure he manages the game well.”

On why he felt the game shifted so dramatically in the Suns’ favor during the third quarter, with Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic not scoring in the fourth:

“I’d have to look at the film to give you a good answer, a lucid one anyway, but like I said before, I just thought our level of communication really went up. Early in the game, we were communicating late, especially when we had opportunities to switch. When we switch on time, it allows for us to have integrity on the back side. And on the back side, we don’t have to help as much when we know we’re switching. Just thought the communication went to a different level, and again, I thought coach Willie Green did a really good job of calming the guys down, letting them know, ‘If we got a few consecutive stops, it could help us.’ And it did, in that moment.”

On what the Suns took from their first-round series against the Los Angeles Lakers in this game:

“I think the physicality of that series helped us to play against a team that big in the playoffs. It’s going to be a lesson, for sure. And then we’re playing against a team that is just as physical. I mean, Aaron Gordon, JaMychal Green, Millsap, those guys are big, strong, physical players and they’re athletic. And Jokic is a physical guy. So we’re playing big, strong teams so if we can get stops and get out and run, I think our speed can nullify that a little bit. But for sure, every series, every game, you’re going to learn and every game has a life of its own. We talk about that all the time, we’re 1-0 against a really good team. We got to learn from this and be ready for their best effort in the next game.”

More on Paul’s leadership and his ability to close games:

“It’s huge. His ability to read the game, clock management, shotmaking. He’s done it for a long time. Right now, he’s probably critiquing himself and picking at some things he could do a lot better. He makes a lot of our stuff look better because he’s been in these situations before, he understands the moment and he and I communicate a ton. And I trust the things that he sees on the floor. So from a leadership standpoint, not only is he able to do the things that we’re asking him to do, but he’s also teaching some of our younger players how to manage the game and how to play in certain moments.”