LOS ANGELES (AP) – Monty Williams wasn’t named the NBA Coach of the Year, but he has something more important — a trip to the NBA Finals.
While Chris Paul was emotional Wednesday night after the Phoenix Suns beat the Los Angeles Clippers 130-103 in Game Six of the Western Conference Finals, Williams was delighted to see his players celebrate.
“I really enjoyed watching him and his feelings after the match. I was like, I must be getting older now because I enjoy watching other people,” Williams said. “It was all about me. Now, I look at everyone else having a good time and I’m like, man, I’m getting old.”
Williams and Paul hugged after the match and took advantage of the moment. Although there were plenty of tears from Paul, there were none from Williams.
“He’s just authentic. I just felt his embrace. I think his parents were totally behind us and he was emotional,” Williams said. I had my emotional time before the match.”
Before the Suns went to Staples Center, Williams and assistant coach Randy Ayers were in the locker room reflecting on their journey together — five years in New Orleans and the last two in Phoenix.
“Today around 2:30 we were in the locker room. It was just Randy and me, so I said, ‘Man, Randy, we’re so close.” Then Randy started telling me how he felt about me, because he’s been with me since day one in New “I broke down before the game,” Williams said. “So I understood the feelings Chris was dealing with. I just ran out of tears. I used up all I had around 2:30, 3 PM today.
“I’m gone, because Randy had just spoken to me from the heart about some of the things we’ve been through. He’s been with me every step of the way since New Orleans and now.”
While Paul’s 16-year journey to the NBA Finals will be one of the integral storylines, Williams also deserves credit. When he was appointed coach on May 3, 2019, the Suns had just exited a 19-63 season in which they tied for the second-worst record in the league.
Two years later, Phoenix broke a 10-year drought by finishing with the second-best mark in the league (51-21) in a season shortened by the pandemic. Phoenix is the third team in the last 45 years to improve from having one of the two worst numbers in the league to the two highest numbers in two or fewer seasons.
The Suns eliminated defending champion Los Angeles Lakers in the first round in six games, swept NBA MVP Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets in four semifinals and sent the Clippers in six games to reach the NBA Finals for the third time in franchise history.
“He respects the position. And that is really fun for me, to see how much work he puts into it,” said Ayres. “I told him today, as if we have a situation we want to talk about at the end of the day before we all go home. I know that the next day take the time to come up with a solution to this situation. And you respect that. I’ve seen it for seven years.”
Williams showed last season that he has a good core of young talent with Devin Booker and Dendry Eaton after improving with 15 wins. By adding Jae Crowder and Paul, he put them ahead, along with an additional improvement of 17 wins.
“Monty comes in, builds the culture, leads us with setting meets opportunity. Those moments were here, and we took them and ran with them,” Booker said.
Combined with the home pitch advantage, the Suns should rest a lot going into the NBA Finals. If the Eastern Conference Finals end between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks in six games, the series will begin on Tuesday. If you come the distance, it starts on July 8th.
Phoenix should also be preferred for its first championship. The last time she reached the NBA Finals was in 1993, losing to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in six games.
The Suns’ only other appearance was in 1976, losing to the Boston Celtics in six games. This series is still going down in the NBA Finals lore for the Celtics’ extra triple win in Game 5.
“I am happy and proud of our team. Monty didn’t win Coach of the Year, but we know who he is,” Paul said. “They won two games in this series without me, and that shows you how crazy he is. The first series got the nervous thing. Win the second streak, and you’re done with COVID. It was a lot and I want it not just for myself, but for everyone in that locker room.”
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