It’s been a long time waiting for fans in Phoenix, but it finally happened. The Suns are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 (snapping the NBA’s fifth-longest playoff drought), and they didn’t simply squeak in either.
Behind head coach Monty Williams, savvy veteran Chris Paul and emerging superstar Devin Booker, the Suns put together a 51-21 regular-season record and earned the No. 2 seed in the NBA’s Western Conference Playoffs.
“Where we were just last year, a couple years ago, to get to this point now, it shows all the work we’ve put in over that course of time, and how important everybody in the organization, from top to bottom, has been,” small forward Cameron Johnson said after the Suns clinched a postseason berth.
Thank you Suns fans for your support this season! As we say, "that was fun, but we ain't done."
— Phoenix Suns (@Suns) May 16, 2021
Phoenix’s reward for making the playoffs is a first-round matchup against the No. 7-seeded Los Angeles Lakers, the NBA’s defending champions, led by 17-time All-Star LeBron James.
The Suns’ path back to NBA relevance began in earnest last summer, when they were invited to the NBA bubble in Orlando to compete for a spot in the postseason. They won all eight of their games in the bubble after the months-long COVID pause, yet still narrowly missed a spot in the postseason.
Phoenix bolstered its roster this fall, which included a November trade with the Thunder for Paul, and then stormed through the regular season and clinched a playoff berth by April 28.
At the forefront of the Suns’ recent resurgence has been Williams. Although he previously led the New Orleans Hornets/Pelicans for five seasons and was a longtime assistant, Williams has found his niche during his first two years in Phoenix. He led the Suns to 15 more wins in 2019-2020 (34) than the previous year (despite playing nine fewer games), and he now has his team near the top of the entire NBA.
Williams’ work hasn’t gone unnoticed. On Thursday, it was announced that he was one of three finalists for NBA Coach of the Year. That came two days after it was announced he had been voted the National Basketball Coaches Association Coach of the Year.
@Suns Head Coach Monty Williams has been named the 2021 recipient of the Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award.
— NBA Coaches Assoc. (@NBA_Coaches) May 18, 2021
In response to receiving the award, Williams’ humility and faith in Christ shone through.
“I am overjoyed to receive the Michael H. Goldberg Coach of the Year Award from the National Basketball Coaches Association,” Williams said in a statement from the NBCA. “I hold the utmost respect and admiration for the coaches in this league, so to be recognized by my peers is an incredible honor. Every coach in our league sacrifices a ton to make their teams and organizations better, so this is unbelievably humbling.”
He continued later, “God knocks the ball out of the park and I get to run the bases. It is a blessing and a privilege to be able to coach this team, alongside this staff, for this organization — it is a ‘get to,’ not a ‘got to.’
“To our players and staff, I am so grateful for each one of you. I am blessed to work with you all daily. You truly have made me a better man.”
Throughout his decades in the NBA as a player and a coach, Williams has been vocal about his faith. He was featured in the Winter 2019 edition of Sports Spectrum Magazine, and in September 2019 he was a guest on the Sports Spectrum Podcast.
He said on the podcast that he continued to trust in God despite enduring the death of his wife, Ingrid, in 2016. She passed away after a head-on collision while three of the couple’s five children were in the car. The children survived the crash, but lost their mother.
“[God] is good,” Williams said. “He loves me. You go through a time like that and you tend to lose sight of that because you are hurting, but God is good.”
Only nine days after the crash, Williams delivered a powerful message of forgiveness to more than 900 people at Ingrid’s funeral.
During the offseason this past September, Williams was asked about his faith again during a Zoom call with media.
“My faith in Christ is something that’s the essence of who I am, but it’s not in the way that you would think,” Williams said. “It’s not that I have it together or it’s not because I dot my I’s and cross my T’s, it’s because I’m what the Bible says I am in Jeremiah 17:9.”
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” — Jeremiah 17:9
“I’m a Christian but I’m also someone who’s a regular dude that’s jacked up, and I have this hope in Christ and I know that I can trust God with any situation that I have. … When people look at me and they think of our faith, I hope that they see, ‘Man, if God can do that in his life, He can do it in mine.'”
The Suns are set to begin on Sunday what they hope will be the first of many postseason runs under Williams. Game 1 is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET in Phoenix.
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