Williams by pressing the right buttons | News, Sports, Jobs


There are cameras and microphones everywhere during the NBA Finals, and they picked up an interaction at the end of Game 2 that was going viral even before the game was over.

It was Phoenix coach Monty Williams who only spoke to Suns center Deandre Ayton during a timeout and desperately tried to cheer him up on a statistically slow night against the Milwaukee Bucks. Ayton’s head was bowed. His body language was horrible. Williams didn’t have it. He started to speak, then grabbed Ayton’s wrist to get more of her attention.

Notice, his voice was high enough that Ayton could hear him despite the din of the crowd. No screaming, no screaming, no swearing, no fuss.

“You set yourself a high standard” Williams said. “That’s what you’re down for.” That’s great. Now go reach that level, okay? And you can reach it with force. Doesn’t need to be statistics all the time. Go dominate the game with strength, because you set yourself a high level. Go dominate the game with strength. Let’s go. “

Ayton scored shortly after the time out was over. Seconds later he got a robbery. Minutes later, with Milwaukee under six and still hopeful, Ayton found Chris Paul for a 3 point. The Bucks have never come close to leveling the game again.

This moment was indicative of the entire season.

Williams hit the right button, every time.

He did it again Thursday, which is part of why the Suns lead 2-0 in those NBA Finals. Why they’re two wins away from the franchise’s first title, and why Williams has been recognized by his peers as the league’s top coach this season. This is also why many others are starting to understand that he really is the real deal.

“You give me a lot of credit” Williams said. “I try to be genuine. Sometimes in a group I don’t say anything. The guys are going to run the caucus. But I try to encourage in caucuses, especially when I see a guy down or the team is not where they should be mentally. I don’t want to make things up.

“I know what it’s like to be in these little groups and you want to know the truth, but you also need a pep talk sometimes, and sometimes you need a pep talk. I’m just trying to be genuine and speak from my heart.

Williams didn’t arrive here by accident. He played for Pat Riley, Don Nelson and Larry Brown, all members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. He also played for Doc Rivers and Mike D’Antoni. He played for Gregg Popovich, then worked for Popovich as an intern coach, then worked with him as the vice president of San Antonio basketball operations.

Popovich said he knew right away that Williams was unique.

“He’s obviously a good basketball coach,” Popovich said this week in Las Vegas, where he and his US Olympic team are preparing for the Tokyo Games. “But his ability to relate to the players, to be authentic, to be honest, no gimmicks, no smokescreens, just a straight man, caring and loving, it shows. It comes out and the players react to it.

Popovich is looking to lead the Americans to a gold medal, which would be their fourth Olympic title in a row. Williams was an assistant coach of America’s last team, the one that won gold in Rio de Janeiro five years ago, just six months after Williams’ wife Ingrid died in a car crash.

He delivered his wife’s eulogy, quoting scriptures, speaking of his faith in God, even reminding other mourners that the family of the other driver, who died in the crash, also needed prayers. It was a demonstration of remarkable class, courage and strength.

“He’s a special man” said Popovich.

A special coach too.

The Suns were the worst basketball team in the past five seasons. The worst. They are two wins away from becoming the best team in the world, with a dynamic young duo – Ayton and US Olympian Devin Booker – and a field coach in Chris Paul, whose 16-season wait for an NBA title could be a few days of the end at last.

They get the job done and Williams wants them to get all the credit. And yes, they deserve a lot, but it was Williams who offered the framework for how this team could win – and let their players find the best way to thrive.

“I tell our guys to go to the hoop”, Williams shrugs.

He makes it simple, makes it easy. Only adults can do it.

Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for the Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds (at) ap.org More from AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP–Sports

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