LOS ANGELES — After the Phoenix Suns dropped Game 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center and fell behind 2-1 in the series on Thursday, the overwhelming sentiment in the locker room after the game was they’re “bringing the series back to Los Angeles,” league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Where does this stern belief and resoluteness — which exudes largely from a team that’s inexperienced — come from? Chris Paul and Jae Crowder are the veterans with steady postseason experiences, but those never-quit characteristics have developed out of love for their coach.
“Guys check on me from time to time by shooting me a text, saying, ‘Hey Coach. I was just thinking about you. How are you doing?’ No basketball talk,” Suns head coach Monty Williams told Yahoo Sports. “Those calls and texts mean so much to me. I’ve been through a lot like so many have. (His wife was tragically killed in a car accident five years ago.) It’s always good to know people are in your corner and that’s what I try to give back.”
Williams got his guys back on the right track Sunday afternoon with a galvanizing 100-92 victory to even the series at two games apiece.
Paul looked restored, supplying a team-high 18 points and a game-high nine assists. Deandre Ayton registered 14 points and a game-high 17 rebounds to go with a block. Devin Booker and Crowder chipped in 17 points each.
It's the man the team loves playing for, but it's also his voice that's just as effective as he’s becoming one of the best motivational speakers in the coaching profession.
“Being down in a series is all about perspective,” Williams told Yahoo Sports. “We don’t have to get a win and do better; we have the privilege and the opportunity to get a win and to do better. I ask that my players have a level of gratitude for what we’re all fortunate enough to do. We’re all blessed to be here. We all could fall into the trap, and I do too at times, of looking at these situations in a negative light. We get to play basketball; we don’t have to play basketball. There’s a difference. This game, that has been good to each and every one of us and our families, won’t always be around. So, let’s treat it that way and give it our all no matter if we are up or down in a series and no matter where we are in the standings because we have this great opportunity to do so.”
Messages such as these resonate regardless of your occupation, and it’s especially potent when you know the story behind the messenger.
The defending champs with LeBron James and Anthony Davis finding a rhythm and winning consecutive games would intimidate most opponents. But Williams harps on perspective.
“I still get checks from NBA licenses to this day, and I haven’t played in years,” Williams told Yahoo Sports. “When you prepare the right way and do the work with a good spirit, you will be rewarded. Getting guys to trust you and partner with you in building a culture and maybe changing one's mindset has been key. When I decided to pursue a head-coaching job again after a lot of prayer, I wanted to partner with an organization on approaching work the right way. And that’s what’s taking place. Our guys have really bought in.”
Phoenix has reclaimed home-court advantage in the series with Game 5 set for Tuesday at Phoenix Suns Arena. The momentum has shifted.
The Lakers are uncertain of the status of Davis, who strained his groin in the first half of Game 4 and was ruled day-to-day. It’s also unknown if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who missed Game 4 with a knee contusion, will be available on Tuesday.
“These shoulders were built for a reason, and if it takes for me to put some more on top of it, then so be it,” James said in his postgame Zoom session. “Win, lose or draw, I’m ready for the challenge.”
Williams anticipates a dangerous and desperate Lakers team will be awaiting them.
“I just want our guys to have fun,” Williams told Yahoo Sports. “We’re blessed and fortunate to be here. Now, let’s have fun. I’m so blessed to be around a great group of men who are relishing these moments and not taking them for granted. This team has grown tremendously. I love our guys.”
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