Suns’ Williams: Free-throw disparity talk after Bucks win had no intent

Jul 13, 2021, 1:32 PM
Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams talks to his assistant coaches during the second half of Gam...

Phoenix Suns head coach Monty Williams talks to his assistant coaches during the second half of Game 1 of basketball's NBA Finals, Tuesday, July 6, 2021, in Phoenix. The Suns defeated the Bucks 118-105. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Suns head coach Monty Williams mentioned the double-digit free-throw disparity in favor of the Milwaukee Bucks after his team’s Game 3 NBA Finals loss Sunday.

It appeared to be tactful.

At the least, what he said ducked anything fineable by the NBA. Williams said he did not want to get into complaining about officials.

Technically, he didn’t by pointing out that Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo had taken one more free throw himself compared to Phoenix as a team. But in the context of the loss, it felt like there was meaning there.

In a follow-up question, Williams was asked specifically about center Deandre Ayton’s foul trouble. The coach expressed a poor understanding of the whistles, which is just shy of being critical to the referees.

“I don’t know what a legal guarding position is at times,” Williams said Sunday after Phoenix’s 120-100 loss. “But they were aggressive and we have to give them credit. I’m not going to sit here and complain about a team that is aggressive. But we have to understand how the refs are calling the game and then adjust to that.”

All that led to this exchange with a reporter on Tuesday as the Suns prepped for Game 4 in Milwaukee with a 2-1 series lead:

Reporter: “After last game you said you didn’t want to complain about the fouls but then you kind of did the next sentence.”

Williams: “Is that like a jab?”

Reporter: “I’m just curious: The reason for bringing that up in a press conference, is what?”

Williams: “Somebody asked me a question: ‘How can I help D.A.?’ So I answered it. The free-throw disparity is what it is. They had one player with 17 and we had 16. That’s not complaining, that’s stating facts.”

Antetokoumpo indeed went to the foul stripe 17 times, making 13.

He had also battered Ayton, the Suns’ most important defensive piece and only rostered true center, with drives that drew fouls.

The Suns themselves went 11-of-16 from the free-throw line and drew 18 fouls on Milwaukee. Phoenix committed 24 personals, five of those tagged on Ayton, who played only 24 minutes despite a strong start on the offensive end.

For what it’s worth, Antetokoumpo said Tuesday he didn’t hear Williams’ comments about the foul difference.

He could only judge what he literally felt.

“I don’t follow that. But I think I take a pretty good beating down there,” the two-time MVP on a streak of two 40-plus scoring nights said. “I have a scratch right here and scratch right here. So they’re making my pretty face ugly (laughs).”

Williams was asked again on Tuesday if he meant to strategically send a message by using the media to reach the ears of the NBA league office.

“It wasn’t intentional,” Williams said. “If it works, great. You know what I’m saying? I stated the facts. I wasn’t pulling something out of a cloud.”

Even if he had, Williams wouldn’t be the first. He and Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer are both products of the San Antonio Spurs, who under the leadership of coach Gregg Popovich have master’s degrees in strategic communication, just from NBA press conferences alone.

“I mean, it’s like the age-old ritual of the playoffs,” Budenholzer said Tuesday, days after he’d mentioned the free throw disparity earlier in the Finals series. “I guess historically or experience-wise, I don’t know that it has any impact and probably could argue I’ve seen it go both ways. Some organizations, some players, some teams actually feel like they’re penalized for doing it.”

So has Williams, who genuinely said he meant nothing by stating facts after Game 3, ever seen value in criticizing officials with the hope it changes something?

“I don’t know if I can do it. It’s just not my personality,” Williams said. “The one thing that Pop taught me is to be myself. I do think it’s finite in its ability to change (things), and ultimately the players are going to go out there and do what they’re going to do to win the game.

“I want to go through the proper channels and get my point across. I don’t want to play the game that way. Maybe I’m wrong in that … I’ve seen coaches implement that. I know I’m not that good at it.”

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Suns’ Williams: Free-throw disparity talk after Bucks win had no intent