Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams said Deandre Ayton missing the first quarter of Monday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder was just a “blip on the screen” and not a distraction.
Ayton missed his mandatory COVID-19 test on Sunday morning and wasn’t cleared to play on Monday until his second test came back negative later in the day. Television cameras showed him riding a stationary bike in the first quarter.
The Suns trailed 37-23 after the first quarter but bounced back to roll to a 128-101 win to improve to 6-0 in Orlando. Ayton had 10 points and six rebounds in 17 minutes. Williams said he understands Ayton’s missed test wasn’t “intentional” and recognized it could happen to anyone.
“I wouldn’t call it a distraction that had everybody down,” Williams said. “Obviously he’s a huge part of our team. When we got the news he tested early and could possibly come back, that took away some of that. I’m not trying to diminish what happened, but it has happened in the bubble. You just have to check yourself all day long. Did I test myself? Did I do it this morning? That’s just the way it has been for us here in this bubble.”
Other players — Dallas’ Kristaps Porzingis, Denver’s Paul Millsap and Oklahoma City’s Nerlens Noel — have also missed their tests in the bubble and missed games. Williams even admitted he’s come close to missing his test before.
“Getting tested every day is just different for us,” Williams said. “I find myself, I’ll test in the morning and will get to about 4 or 5 o’clock and I’ll ask myself questions like, ‘Did I test?’ You just get confused by it. I know I’m not the only one that’s done that.
“We’ve said in the NBA season, guys are going to make mistakes. You have to be able to give people grace. It wasn’t intentional. Thankfully, he was able to get tested early enough to get the results back so he could come and play.”
Ayton played 9:42 in the second quarter and then started the second half in his normal role with the starters. When he subbed out at the 4:37 mark of the third quarter, Phoenix had a 12-point lead. The Suns quickly pushed the lead to 20 and Ayton, Ricky Rubio and Devin Booker, who had a game high 35 points, didn’t play at all in the fourth quarter.
Williams declined to say whether he thought about sitting Ayton completely, adding that he felt that the team had to adapt once they found out the news Monday morning.
“You have guys on your team that are ready to play,” Williams said. “That’s what helped us all year long. We have guys on the bench that are ready to play at any given moment. That was my mindset, let’s move forward. We had to regroup a little bit and adapt to the situation.”