Monty Williams and Willie Green shared an emotional embrace after the Phoenix Suns clinched the first-round series against the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday.
“One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in basketball is coach against people that I love and care about,” said Green, the Pelicans’ first-year head coach. “You have to shut off communication. You got to act like we’re not friends or brothers. And … go out there and compete. It’s hard, but I’m proud of our group. I’m proud of them. “
“We’re all family,” Williams added.
Chris Paul led the Suns to a 115-109 win in Game 6 at New Orleans’ sold-out Smoothie King Center, a home that Paul helped build while playing for the New Orleans Hornets for six seasons from 2005-11. But it was Paul who put a nail the Pelicans’ coffin on Thursday, scoring 33 points on 14-of-14 shooting to set an NBA playoff record for most field goals without a miss.
“Don’t remind me of that right now,” Green joked postgame about Paul’s historic performance. “They brought it and I wouldn’t expect nothing less.”
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Green and Williams share a close bond. Green and Paul played for Williams as members of the New Orleans Hornets in the 2010-11 season, Williams’ first as a head coach. Green served as an assistant coach for the Suns under Williams for two seasons, including their 2021 run to the NBA Finals.
“I’ve been with (the Suns) and I understand what they are playing for,” Green said. “They are playing for a title. Last year, that group — I was included — it hurt not winning. When the moment’s big, they are ready and we are preparing our group in New Orleans for the same thing.”
Williams said he’s experiencing a “weird back and forth with my feelings and my heart” following the game.
“It’s hard when you have to compete against someone you love,” he said. “So there were tons of emotions with this game. I’m glad we won, but I know what it feels like to be on the other side and I just felt for Willie. But I was unbelievably elated for our team.”
Paul agreed, calling the mix of emotions “the weirdest thing I’ve ever been apart of.”
“I don’t think people ever really understand that relationship with me and Willie. I’m not in Phoenix if not for Willie. He’s the first person who even knew about me even having a thought of coming to Phoenix,” Paul said. “He’s a coach, but he’s my teammate and brother. … Willie’s my family. So not talking to him or communicating with him during the series, that’s tough.”
Williams spoke very highly of Green, saying he’s one of “the more steady people I’ve been around,” describing him as “consistent, stable and strong,” characteristics of the Pelicans exemplified during the gritty first-round series after winning a playoff berth through the play-in tournament.
“I know what Willie brought to the table for our program and you saw it this year with his program,” Green said. “I just know that feeling. I know what it’s like. To see him in that place is a tough spot for all of us because at the end of the day, we are all friends and we are all brothers.”
Devin Booker said Green reached out to him after he injured his hamstring earlier in the series, forcing him to miss three games.
“Willie actually reached out to me when I did my hamstring,” said Booker. “He said, ‘Even though we are competing, prayers up. I hope it heals quick.’ He’s a standup guy, always has been.”
The Suns will advance to the conference semifinals to face the winner between the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz. Game 1 of that series will be Monday in Phoenix.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Monty Williams, Willie Green share hug after Suns advance in Game 6