The Phoenix Suns were coming out of a timeout with under eight minutes left in Game 2 of the 2021 NBA Finals when the cameras caught head coach Monty Williams giving a pep talk to 22-year-old center Deandre Ayton. The Suns were on their way to a 2-0 series lead against the Milwaukee Bucks, but they needed their emerging big man to help close out the game amid a tremendous performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Williams’ words of encouragement paid off: Ayton stole a pass from Antetokounmpo on the next possession coming out of the timeout, and then finished an alley-oop from teammate Chris Paul a couple possessions later.
The Suns would go on to win, 118-108, to grab the first two games at home as the series now moves back to Milwaukee.
Here’s the clip of Williams coaching up Ayton.
Here’s a transcription of what Williams told Ayton in the video:
“This is the deal,” Williams said. “One, when we’re getting back in transition, if you don’t have Giannis, find a man and be a guard. Two, you set a high level for yourself, that’s why you’re down. That’s great. Now go reach that level. You can reach it with force. It doesn’t have to be stats all the time. Go dominate the game with force. Let’s go.”
Here’s what Williams said when asked about the moment after the game:
“I try to be authentic. Sometimes in a huddle I don’t say anything, the guys will run the huddle. But I try to be an encourager in huddles, especially when I see a guy down or the team is not at the level where they should be mentally. I don’t want to make up stuff. I know what it’s like to be in those huddles and you want to know the truth. But you also need sometimes a pep talk, sometimes encouragement. I just try to be authentic and speak from the heart. Sometimes it requires me to shut up and not say anything. I think our players understand where I’m coming from; when I come to the huddle, I want to have something substantial to say or I’m just not going to say anything. So that’s just the way I approach it.”
Ayton has been outstanding during the Suns’ playoff run, but Game 2 wasn’t his best performance. He finished with 10 points and 11 rebounds in the win, while Giannis was incredible with 42 points on 15-of-22 shooting. The box score stats aren’t the only thing that matters, though. Ayton admirably played 42 minutes in the game with backups Dario Saric and Torrey Craigh both injured, and helped the Suns protect the paint defensively. The strides he’s made throughout this playoff run have been enormous.
Ayton, the former No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, is becoming one of the better big men in the league. Williams clearly has a special connection with his center to have such a frank individual conversation with him at such a key point in the game.
Williams has proven himself to be nothing less than one of the best coaches alive over the last two seasons. A moment like this shows why he’s so good.