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Monty Williams is running the Mike D’Antoni substitution playbook in these playoffs

The Phoenix Suns head coach has made his key players play a lot of minutes through two games. It’s very D’Antoni-esque.

Los Angeles Clippers v Phoenix Suns - Game One Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Phoenix Suns evened up their First Round series against the Los Angeles Clippers with a win on Tuesday night. Upon looking at the final 123-109 score and peering at the box score, you say that all is right in the Valley of the Sun. It appears that the Suns found their rhythm.

Following a disappointing five point loss in Game 1, the team responded and put together a cohesive performance to garner their 14-point victory. Whatever issues existed in the first game were nullified by excellent play, quality coaching, and dedication on both sides of the floor.

But look a little harder at that box score. One statistic that may jump out is the fact that Devin Booker played 44:48 minutes in the game. Kevin Durant played 44:46 minutes.

Sure, it’s the postseason. The expectation is that your star players will log more minutes. After all, that’s what you are paying them maximum contracts for? They are your money makers, the guys who can rise above the rest, especially when it matters the most. Entering the postseason, I believe that we all were excited to see what 40+ minutes from both Devin Booker and Kevin Durant looked like.

Through the first two games of the postseason, Booker is averaging 44 minutes. KD is averaging 44.5 minutes played. That’s a ton of minutes through two games. Conversely, the Clippers’ primary superstar, Kawhi Leonard, is averaging 40.

Is Monty Williams, though, playing them too much too soon due to a lack of depth? t’s a question that haunts the Phoenix franchise.

In the mid-2000s, the Phoenix Suns were revolutionary in the way that they played basketball. The Seven Seconds or Less Suns played at what was then considered a frenetic pace. Their level of athleticism assisted in their domination of the regular season for multiple years. But when the playoffs came around, they faded like the Phoenix sun.

There are numerous reasons for this. The San Antonio Spurs, their arch nemesis during that period, played a different style of basketball. They were slow, methodical, physical, and wore you down both mentally and physically.

One of the contributing factors to those Phoenix failures was Mike D’Antoni not trusting what he had throughout the regular season that allowed him to be successful. He would play his starting five so much for so long that by the Western Conference Finals, if they made it that far, the team would be tired and worn down.

You know. You remember.

40 minutes in a postseason game is like 54 minutes in a regular season game. The level of intensity and physicality is unreplicable in the regular season. The Suns were so worn down that the style of play that made them special ultimately worked against them. The Steve Nash era came and went without even a single trip to the NBA Finals.

Two games into what we hope is a prolonged postseason run for Phoenix. One thing that has stood out is Monty Williams is already having issues with his rotations. He doesn’t have the answers to the test or the adjustments we hoped his experience would bring.

Monty hasn’t had faith in his second team unit. Outside of Landry Shamet, of course. Which is absolutely nuts. With veterans like Terrence Ross and T.J. Warren available, he’s opting to go with the smaller Landry Shamet. Kawhi Leonard is actively seeking Shamet’s out and destroying him.

We witnessed this in Game 2, as Monty just threw fecal matter against the wall and saw if it sticks for the first quarter-and-a-half of the game. T.J. Warren for two minutes? Sure. How about Damion Lee for three minutes? Why not? He’s experimenting with lineups rather than sticking with what got him here.

I go back to the minutes played by Devin Booker and Kevin Durant. These are finesse players, not physical players. Finesse players have the ability to wear down if you wear them out, and while it’s clear that Monty’s only real adjustment is just to play the living shite out of these guys, it’s not the long term answer for success.

Looking at the past 10 NBA champions, here are the minutes played per game in the First Round by each of the eventual NBA Finals MVP:

  • 2013: LeBron James – 36.8
  • 2014: Kawhi Leonard – 32.7
  • 2015: Andre Iguodala – 28.0
  • 2016: LeBron James – 41.2
  • 2017: Kevin Durant – 28.2
  • 2018: Kevin Durant – 37.2
  • 2019: Kawhi Leonard – 34.1
  • 2020: LeBron James – 32.9
  • 2021: Giannis Antetokounmpo – 36.3
  • 2022: Stephen Curry – 30.0

Short term, yes, you want to win the series. Long term, however, you want to have enough juice left in the batteries to sustain a prolonged run towards a title. This isn’t the best start to achieve the latter.

Again, it’s early. Perhaps Monty Williams has a few tricks up his sleeves in the series. Perhaps he will develop some semblance of faith in his second team unit on the flight from Sky Harbor to LAX. But if he doesn’t. If he wears his stars out. If he grinds them down, it wouldn’t be something that we haven’t seen before in Phoenix.

It’s the Mike D’Antoni special, and Monty Williams is playing that playbook to a T. It’s not the right answer.

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