Fall 2022

Faith-driven coach Monty Williams leads Phoenix Suns in playoffs after historic season

The NBA’s 2021-22 regular season wrapped up Sunday, the playoff matchups are set and the dream of postseason glory remains alive for 20 teams.

The Miami Heat finished first in the Eastern Conference, while the Phoenix Suns cruised to the top spot in the Western Conference. The Suns finished eight games ahead of the No. 2-seeded Memphis Grizzlies despite losing on Sunday and finishing with a 2-4 record in April, as head coach Monty Williams strategically rested key players.

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Phoenix’s 64-18 regular-season record was not only the best in the NBA this season, but the best in the history of the Suns franchise.

Despite carrying the mantle as the NBA’s best team throughout the regular season, Williams knows that means nothing in the playoffs. All teams are 0-0.

“Everyone’s playing with the same cards, you know what I’m saying? We’re all kind of finishing about the same time,” he said after his team’s 116-109 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. “All the playoff teams are going to have pretty much a week off.”

Under Williams, the Suns were the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season, advancing all the way to the NBA Finals before falling to the Milwaukee Bucks in six games. With a very similar roster, Williams believes last season’s experience will help this season’s Suns.

“Our guys, they’ve been here before,” he said. “I think that helps us, as opposed to last year we didn’t know — I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t even won a playoff round in my coaching career, so now we can at least have an idea. We’re just going to try to be as smart as we can and plan accordingly and try to do what’s best for the team.”

He continued later, “I’m not some old, wise playoff sage. I can’t sit up here and wax eloquently about some step-by-step process. I have a level of humility for the process, and that forces me to work harder and to ask more questions and to get feedback, because I’m not that grizzled when it comes to playoff basketball.”

Williams, in his third season with the Suns, has deftly guided his team through a renaissance of sorts. His first team narrowly missed the playoffs after going 8-0 in the COVID “bubble.” His second team snapped a 10-season playoff drought and advanced to the Finals. Now, his third team seems poised to do it again. Yet through all of the praise and accolades (2021 NBCA Coach of the Year), Williams has remained humble and grateful to God.

“I’ve often said about my life, ‘God has knocked the ball out of the park, and I get to run the bases,’” Williams said on the Sports Spectrum Podcast last October. “There’ve been some heartaches, a lot of bad decisions on my part, some trials, but God has been good through it all. His plans for us are good, to give us a future and to hope, and I’m an example of that.

“So I’m just grateful for what he’s done in my life, grateful for 50 years, and I think 26 or 27 years in the NBA (as a player and coach). Like, I couldn’t even imagine that when I was a kid, with my mother in a one-bedroom apartment, when I gave my life to the Lord at 10 years old, I couldn’t even imagine that. So the Lord has been good, and I’m grateful for what He’s done in my life.”

Williams has long been outspoken about his faith in Christ, and that has continued in his public role as Suns head coach.

“One of my anchor verses is Colossians 3:23, doing my work as ‘unto the Lord and not unto man,’” Williams said on the podcast. “Another anchor verse for me is Matthew 6:33: ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.’

“Those two verses help me in my coaching, because no matter what’s going on, a big win or tough loss, I know that I’m there to do God’s will. I don’t do it well, and I fail daily. But that’s my reference point. That’s my lighthouse.”

Williams will seek to lead his dominant Suns team into the playoffs with humility and thankfulness, knowing he is there to glorify God. Phoenix will play Game 1 of its first-round series on Sunday, although its opponent will be determined by this week’s results from the play-in games. It will be either the Los Angeles Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans or San Antonio Spurs.

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