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Suns' Monty Williams left in a foul mood after Game 3 but denies he's working the refs

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MILWAUKEE – First, Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams took offense to the free-throw discrepancy between his team (16) and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (17) in a Game 3 loss of the NBA Finals.

"I'm not going to get into the complaining publicly about fouls," Williams said Sunday night. "Just not going to do that. But you can look -- we had 16 free throws tonight. One person had 17."

Then, Williams took offense to a reporter’s commentary after Tuesday’s practice. That reporter remarked, “You didn't want to complain about the fouls, but then you kind of did in the next sentence….,” prompting Williams to interrupt the line of questioning.

“Is that like a jab?,” Williams asked with a hint of annoyance.

Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) shot 17 free throws in Game 3 while the Suns shot 16 as a team.
Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) shot 17 free throws in Game 3 while the Suns shot 16 as a team.

A reporter contended he simply wanted to know the purpose of bringing that up in a press conference after fielding a question about Suns center Deandre Ayton becoming limited to 29 minutes because of foul trouble. Was this a form of gamesmanship entering Game 4 on Wednesday?

“Somebody asked me the question – ‘How can I help DA?’ So I answered it,” Williams said. “Then the free-throw disparity is what it is. So that's what I did. They had one player with 17 free throws; we had 16. That's not complaining; that's stating facts.”

It’s not uncommon for coaches to gripe about officiating, especially during the postseason. As Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer observed, “it's like the age-old ritual of the playoffs.” Former New York Knicks coach Pat Riley and former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson often shared jabs about their respective team’s lack of calls during heated playoff matchups in the 1990’s. When Jackson became the Los Angeles Lakers’ head coach, he often tweaked star players.

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Consider what happened during the 2010 NBA playoffs. Jackson contended that former Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant was “already being treated like a superstar.” He accused former Phoenix Suns star Steve Nash of getting away with carrying the ball. He said that Boston Celtics had a “smackdown mentality” before noting Kevin Garnett often smacked former Orlando Magic star Dwight Howard's arm during a playoff series.

Durant admitted that Jackson’s observations bothered him and affected his game afterwards, while Nash and Garnett laughed at the commentary. It does not appear Antetokounmpo will take the bait.

“I don't follow quotes after the games about the coaches or us or my coach,” Antetokounmpo said. “But I think I take a pretty good beating down there. I have a scratch right here and scratch right here. So they're making my pretty face ugly.”

Khris Middleton (22) and the Bucks were able to score 54 points in the paint during Game 3 because of Deandre Ayton's foul trouble.
Khris Middleton (22) and the Bucks were able to score 54 points in the paint during Game 3 because of Deandre Ayton's foul trouble.

Nonetheless, Williams also played for coaches during his nine-year NBA career that knew how to work the officials, including Riley, Jeff Van Gundy, Doc Rivers and Gregg Popovich. Is Williams simply imitating his mentors?

“I don't know if I can do it. It's just not my personality,” Williams said. “The one thing that Pop taught me was to be myself. I do think it's finite in its ability to change anything. Ultimately, I think the players are going to go out there and do what they're going to do to help win the game. I'm not quite sure if it helps as much as people would think.”

Does Williams understand it looked like he was applying some gamesmanship following Game 3?

“Maybe, but it wasn't intentional,” Williams said. “But if it works, great, you know? You know what I'm saying? I stated the facts. I wasn't pulling something out of a cloud. You get where I'm coming from? Those are facts.”

That is why Williams maintained before Game 3 that he doesn’t overanalyze referee assignments. Still, Suns guard Chris Paul has lost 12 consecutive playoff games while Scott Foster was an official. Paul noted the streak earlier in the playoffs.

“You probably could argue I've seen it go both ways,” Budenholzer said. “Some organizations, some players, some teams actually feel like they're penalized for doing it. At the end of the day, I actually think the referees just call the game. They call the game and coaches go and talk about the game, and we'll do the same thing after tomorrow night's game. We have the best referees in the league and we're always still frustrated with them. They're still the best in the world.”

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Suns' Monty Williams says gamesmanship is not behind foul commentary