NBA

Usurping Utah in the West would be great, but Suns say 'it's just not our focus'

By Sports Desk April 08, 2021

The Phoenix Suns defeated the Utah Jazz on Wednesday to close the gap at the top of the Western Conference, but coach Monty Williams insisted first place was not on his mind.

Williams has led a remarkable turnaround this season, with the Suns having a 34-39 record last year that was boosted significantly by an eight-game winning run in the seeding games in the 'bubble'.

However, Phoenix is 36-14 in the 2020-21 campaign and, following a 117-113 overtime defeat of the Jazz, they are breathing down Utah's necks.

"We just don't focus on any of that stuff," Williams said.

"I hear it, and I hope we do, but our goal has always been to win every game, improve every month - I've said that since I've been here. This team has to go through these types of experiences to win big.

"Being number one in the West would be a huge accomplishment for us, but it's just not our focus.

"We just want to win every game we can. If it means we're number one in the West, then great."

The Suns have not played in the postseason since 2009-10, but this game served as playoff preparation.

"We've always said we want to approach every game the same way - that way we don't have to change when we get where we want to go - but the intensity, the physicality, the officiating certainly felt like a playoff game," Williams said. "And going into overtime, it felt just like that."

Chris Paul added: "We needed a game like that, where guys had to play heavy minutes, the intensity of it, the crowd was great, just that energy. We haven't played too many games like that."

Veteran Paul played 43 minutes and contributed 29 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter and five in overtime.

He now ranks fifth in the league for clutch points (115), and Williams said: "Down the stretch, you might not find anybody better than Chris Paul."

The coach also praised the Suns' work in disrupting Utah's shooting from three-point range, where they were 11-for-44, down on a season average of 39.2 per cent.

And Deandre Ayton was singled out after finishing with 12 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end.

The Jazz, led by Defensive Player of the Year favourite Rudy Gobert, allowed a season-high 61 rebounds, while only three times have opponents managed more than 16 offensive boards against them.

"We put [Ayton] in a lot of tough positions. Not many guys his size have to do as much as he does," Williams said. "The only other guy, maybe, is Gobert, and he's Defensive Player of the Year.

"We put DA in coverages where he's got to rim-protect but we also switch out with him at times where he's got to guard smaller guys. When they make shots, it's usually a tough shot."

It was the first time in Ayton's career he reached double figures for rebounds against Gobert and the Jazz.

"Everybody's got a job on this team, man," Ayton said, adding: "Competing with Gobert, that's the Defensive Player of our league.

"Him being a presence on both ends of the floor, you're going to have to bring your 'A-game'. He's a strong, physical dude, he knows the game, and I learned a lot, too."

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