Prior to this season, the Phoenix Suns hadn’t reached the playoffs since 2010. They lost in the Western Conference Finals that year.
In just the second season under head coach Monty Williams, the Suns are back in the conference finals, thanks to a 4-0 sweep of the Denver Nuggets on Sunday. After a 51-21 regular season to secure the West’s No. 2 seed — just one game behind the Utah Jazz, who claimed the NBA’s best record — the surging Suns are looking like a legitimate title contender. They’ll take on the winner of the Jazz-Clippers series, which is tied at two games apiece.
Phoenix’s strong season can largely be credited to Williams, who took over in May 2019. He inherited a team that finished 19-63 in 2018-19, worst in the West. There was some improvement in 2020, as the Suns managed a 26-39 record through March 10 — and then the global coronavirus pandemic hit.
Since the league resumed play, Phoenix has been the best team in the NBA. It went a perfect 8-0 in the “NBA bubble,” but barely missed the playoffs. Then, in November 2020, the Suns traded for 10-time All-Star Chris Paul, who earned another All-Star berth this season, as he led the team in assists (8.9 per game), was second in scoring (16.4) and started 70 games for the second straight season after three years of battling injuries. With Paul, who turned 36 last month, running alongside young star Devin Booker, Phoenix became a force.
Paul’s relationship with Williams made Phoenix an attractive destination in his 16th season, and the coach certainly wanted his good friend to lead his team. Paul played for Williams in 2010-11, Williams’ first season as the head coach in New Orleans and Paul’s last season with the team that selected him fourth overall in the 2005 NBA Draft.
But their bond was deepened in February 2016, when Williams’ wife, Ingrid, died in a car accident. Paul was one of the people who was right there for Williams.
After sharing a hug with Paul on the court Sunday following their defeat of the Nuggets, Williams reflected on their relationship.
“Chris has meant so much to my career, so much to my life,” Williams told the media. “I’ve shared it with a few people, but the darkest moment of my life, Chris was right there. And one of the highlights of my career, he’s right there. So I’m just grateful to God for him. And all of our guys.”
"The darkest moment of my life Chris was right there, and in one of the highlights of my career he's right there."
Suns' Head Coach Monty Williams speaks about his gratitude for CP3. pic.twitter.com/kEjH87VsJo
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) June 14, 2021
Paul had nothing but praise as well for his coach.
“Mont has been through things in his life that a lot of people don’t necessarily come back from,” Paul told the media after the game. “The mental stamina, who he is as a person — basketball aside, he means so much to me and my family.”
Williams spoke about the death of his wife and his faith on the Sports Spectrum Podcast in September 2019. He said he continued to trust in God despite all the pain.
“[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.”
During the offseason this past September, Williams was also asked about his faith in Christ during a Zoom call with media. He referenced a few Bible verses that have impacted him, but wanted to emphasize that he’s nothing special.
“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,” he said, adding, “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.’”
As Williams and the Suns await their next foe, the Clippers and Jazz will meet for Game 5 on Wednesday.
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