Williams: Suns must get past ‘silliness’ of arguments with Lakers, refs

May 29, 2021, 11:00 AM | Updated: 11:21 pm
Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder, second from right, is held back after being ejected during the se...

Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder, second from right, is held back after being ejected during the second half in Game 3 of the team's NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday, May 27, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Neither the Phoenix Suns nor the Los Angeles Lakers have had much consistency in their first-round playoff series, but there has been one constant: the mental fight between the two teams. At times it’s only words, at times it has turned physical, but head coach Monty Williams told his team they need to find their poise.

In his words, they must get past the “silliness” of the complaining to the referees and jawing between the teams.

“There are some things that are being said and done on the floor, probably both ways, that go outside of what basketball should be about. Way too much complaining, in my opinion, from both sides,” Williams said. “We have to be focused on the game.”

It started in Game 1. After the Lakers led the first-half free throw battle 17-0 and physicality increased in the second half, Suns guard Cam Payne was ejected after an altercation with Lakers guard Alex Caruso and center Montrezl Harrell.

That sequence, which came on the heels of multiple offensive fouls drawn by Caruso — one of which was a bad turnover by Payne – was set into motion by a missed LeBron James free throw.

Paul held James’ arm down in an attempt to box him out. A foul was called. Payne continued going after the ball and shouldered Caruso, who responded by swatting the ball out of Payne’s hands. The Suns guard picked it up and threw it at Caruso’s feet. Harrell came flying in from beyond half court, nearly knocked Payne down, but wrapped him up and held him on his feet to prevent him from falling.

In Game 2, Suns forward Jae Crowder picked up his second foul in the first minute of the game on a play in which Anthony Davis extended his leg during his shot and made contact with Crowder’s groin.

Crowder was called for a shooting foul for contact to Davis’ arm while Davis received a flagrant foul.

Some noted after the game that Crowder liked a tweet that called Davis’ NBA Finals ring fake.

The Suns looked mentally drained in the second half of Game 3. James appeared to be laughing during one play when he posted up Crowder, and in the closing seconds of the Suns’ first bad playoff loss, a frustrated Devin Booker pushed Dennis Schroder during a layup attempt by the Lakers’ guard.

Booker was ejected, as was Crowder, who had started talking to Schroder after the play. Davis called the play dirty in the postgame press conference.

“That was a winnable game, and we were able to cut it to eight, but then after that I thought the poise, the mental stamina and stability kind of got away from us a little bit,” Williams said. “We can’t afford that, especially on the road.”

Throughout the series, the Suns have taken issue with calls that they perceive as the referees favoring the Lakers. Paul referenced his 0-11 record with referee Scott Foster officiating multiple times after Game 3. Wing Torrey Craig, one of the more playoff-experienced players in the Suns’ rotation, brought up their handling of officials on Friday.

“Next game, we have to just come out, not worry about the referees, not get caught up in what they’re doing and get frustrated,” Craig said. “Keep a level head, keep our poise and just play Suns basketball.”

This inability to remain poised against an experienced, championship Lakers team, coupled with both teams complaining to the referees about calls, has taken the Suns’ focus away from what they can control, Williams said.

He and Paul discussed this theme while exiting the court during Game 3, and Williams spoke about it with the rest of the team after the loss.

“I spent some time yesterday talking about the energy that we have to focus on the game and not the silliness that’s going on with words that are said on the floor, fouls that don’t go our way. There has to be a poise,” Williams said.

“Chris was talking about (how) we have to have an edge, also. And I agree with him — but all of those things have to be done within the confines of the game.”

The Game 3 loss put the Suns behind the Lakers 2-1 in the first-round series. Game 4 is scheduled to tip off at 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.

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