Earlier today, ESPN NBA analysts Flip Saunders and Bruce Bowen discussed the start of the NBA Playoffs with members of the media. The NBA Playoffs will exclusively tip off Saturday, April 20, on ABC and ESPN with four Game 1 presentations. The action begins on ABC when the New York Knicks host the Boston Celtics at 3 p.m. ET. ABC will also broadcast Game 1 of the San Antonio Spurs-Los Angeles Lakers series on Sunday, April 21 at 3:30 p.m. In addition, ESPN will televise a Game 1 tripleheader April 20: Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets at 5:30 p.m.; Chicago Bulls at Brooklyn Nets at 8 p.m.; Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers at 10:30 p.m.
The NBA Playoffs will exclusively begin and conclude on ESPN’s family of networks, culminating with ABC’s exclusive presentation of The Finals on ABC, starting June 6.
Here is the replay of today’s conference call.
Q. I’m curious of both of your impressions on the Knicks, but specifically what you see differently or not differently from Carmelo? Is Carmelo doing anything differently this season or are they a better team because of the surrounding cast?
FLIP SAUNDERS: I think the biggest thing with Carmelo is he came in better shape this year, and I think from the beginning being in better shape he was able to do more things and able to, over the course of the game, exert more energy, both on the offensive and defensive end. I also think how they play where they spread the floor so much, as many threes that they take and the efficiency that they have shooting the threes, plays into his hands because it becomes very difficult for teams to run people at him, to try to double‑team him, to get the ball out of his hands a lot because of the ability of his teammates to knock down shots. I think what New York has really done is they’ve done a very good job of putting this team together to complement Carmelo and the things that he does, so it’s one of those situations where their role players actually make Carmelo a better player where many times your superstars make other players better role players, but this is a situation where their role players make Carmelo a better player, and I think some of the inside players they have up front with Chandler, it helps them defensively and to protect around the paint.
BRUCE BOWEN: I agree with Flip as far as the team being built around Carmelo’s strength and that’s scoring. It’s not necessarily about him making other guys better from a standpoint of creating or facilitating. Carmelo has always been a great scorer in this game as far as the match‑up problems that he presents. What you see now is that he’s that guy. It’s not about him trying to share the limelight with say Amar’e Stoudemire or in the past with other players in Denver where sometimes if he doesn’t get his shots, he may float and may not get the full Carmelo effect that you’re getting now. He realizes that he is a first and second option, and for him that fits right into his wheelhouse.
Now, creating shots for the others, being that I was that role player, that role‑player effect, it does create opportunities when you have a guy that doesn’t have to worry about when he’s going to get his next shot, whereas Carmelo is starting to understand how with him being on the floor, how he creates more attention so that Raymond Felton can get a driving lane to the basket because teams don’t necessarily want to leave Carmelo as well as Novak as well as some of the other players, J.R. Smith. Being able to coexist on the floor at the same time is something that I think has just added to the maturity of who he is now.
Q. Did Russell Westbrook do enough this season? He had another great year, to eliminate the good Russell, bad Russell narrative, or is he just the kind of player that’s going to draw that scrutiny no matter how his season went this year?
BOWEN: I think with his style of play, it’s always going to draw scrutiny, especially with the great point guards that we have today. He’s different than the others. You look at a Chris Paul. Chris Paul can really affect the game without scoring. He can set guys up, he gets into the defensive stance really well. Well, one of the best attributes of Russell Westbrook is his attacking mentality, his attacking style, and so many times we find fault with that, but it’s actually what works for the Oklahoma City Thunder when you have Kevin Durant there, as well. The biggest disclaimer now is maybe Russell takes shots away from Kevin. But the two need one another on the floor because they’re such different players but yet effective.
SAUNDERS: Not to repeat what Bruce said, but pretty much what he said is pretty much right on with how Westbrook plays.
And I think many times what happens in our league, people look at how somebody plays and they take somebody ‑‑ they look and say, well, this guy turns the ball over a lot, and it’s not conducive to winning basketball. But I think how Russell plays is that he’s going to play that aggressive offensive game that puts so much pressure on other teams that he’s going to turn the ball over because of the situations that he gets in.
But the benefit and the rewards of what he does and how aggressive he plays far outweighs the negatives that happen over the course of a game. I know as a coach when I look at them, when you start preparing how to play against them, you’re in a situation that you’ve got to ‑‑ your first line of defense is how are we going to stop Russell Westbrook in the open floor, maybe not even worrying about Kevin Durant, three‑time scoring champion, but you’re more concerned of what Westbrook can do in his first initial surge.
I think the other thing is I have so much respect for Westbrook because when you look at his situation, we had so many players down the stretch that sit out games and that, and here’s a guy, I think the last time he missed a game was probably in elementary school. The guy plays every night, gives everything he has. I know he’s got an unbelievable work ethic off the floor, and he really stands for what you would hope a lot of players that are growing up stand for as far as how hard he plays, and the things he does ‑‑ many times I know he gets criticized for maybe taking shots away from Durant, but I believe the things he does, he does because that’s what he believes he has to do for them to win. That’s why I have so much respect for how he plays.
Q. I just want to get your thoughts on the Celtics entering this postseason, obviously a dramatically different team than what they thought they’d have. Do they have anything left? Can they give the Knicks any type of a series? And what do you see out of Garnett and Pierce this postseason? Do they need to carry the load or who might be the key player for them if they have a chance to advance?
SAUNDERS: Well, I think having been with Boston last year through the Playoffs, I learned one thing: Don’t ever count them out. Of course they don’t have Rondo which was a huge factor for their success last year in the Playoffs. But as Doc has always said, this team is always built for the Playoffs. What I mean by that, is they’re built with their defense to lock down defensively. They’re built that the longer they play a team in a playoff series, the better they become defensively because they understand even more so what type of wrinkles and counters teams are trying to run against them. And when you look at not only that but then they also have game‑day rest and preparation, and when you give a veteran team that has two great players, hall of fame players in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, time to rest and have their bodies pretty healthy and also give them preparation time, they become very dangerous.
When I look at the series, I believe it’s going to be a tough series. I think this is going to be one of the most intriguing series of the first rounds that we have because the strength of New York is their ability to shoot the basketball on the perimeter, and one of the strengths of Boston’s defense is their ability to contest three‑point shots and take away three‑point percentage shooting. So if they can do that, they really take away a key ingredient of what the New York Knicks do to have success.
And then the other factor when I look at the Knicks, the Knicks are a team that’s last in the league in assists so they’re very much an isolation type team, they want you to come trap, really extend your defense, and anyone that watches Boston a lot knows their defense is a pack‑it‑in type defense. They’re going to zone it up, they’re going to load up, and playing a team that maybe doesn’t move the ball a lot and has multiple action plays right into Boston’s hands. So I think from a team standpoint I believe that those are big keys.
Individually when you look at both Pierce and Garnett, Doc has done a great job as he always does down the stretch of resting those guys. I think you’ll see those guys are going to be very well rested. I believe that both those guys are key. When I say that, Boston inverts their offense so you are going to see Garnett at 20 feet a lot. So he’s going to take Chandler away from the basket, which a lot times becomes a problem for NBA teams when their center is playing 20, 21 feet away from the basket, and Paul Pierce at times he’s going to be matched up against Carmelo. You have to get Carmelo matched up against Paul Pierce because I always believe the best was to stop somebody like Carmelo is to make him defend and make him run through a lot of screens, pick‑and‑rolls and screens off the ball. So you don’t want Carmelo to rest on defense where he has all that energy as far as on offense.
BOWEN: I don’t think I could add to that. I agree with Flip.
Q. I was just looking for some general thoughts on the Rockets entering their first playoff in four years, and what chance do they have and to what degree are they playing to set themselves up for next year?
BOWEN: I think any chance at this point of the game, we’ve seen upsets take place, and there’s more to this story than just the fact of a 1‑8 seed going against each other, it’s a former player from that team. James Harden has had a spectacular season and you can see the effect he’s had in aiding Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik down low, so I think this helps with the process of continuing to build and to get better.
When you’ve had such a long drought from the Playoffs, you’ve got to do things in a gradually progressive way. We saw that with OKC a few years back. They lost in the first round, then they lose in the second round. Next thing you know they win in the Western Conference Finals and go play for the NBA championship.
So I think it’s good on both sides as far as building for the next season, getting the guys a taste of what playoff basketball is about and making them work harder to try to have that feeling again next season.
SAUNDERS: Yeah, I think, first of all, when I look at Houston, and having played with Kevin McHale, they talk a lot about people that are going to be Coach of the Year, and he probably won’t get it but he’s a guy who definitely needs consideration, because when you look at what they’ve been able to do with that team, and knowing Kevin a little bit and knowing that, here’s a guy that I know when I played with him, he yelled every time anybody took an outside shot that the ball should go inside. And he’s adapted his style of play to now where they take as many threes as they take, and I know looking at their team, when I went through the most‑improved players in the league and I made a list of 10 guys, three of the top 10 guys came from Houston. You had Asik, you had Chandler Parsons and my most‑improved player of the year was Harden.
That team has improved so much, so they are really set for the future, and even more so because of the salary‑cap situation opening that they have. But they’re a dangerous team to play. Speaking from a coach, I always said one of the scariest situations I always have is to go into a series and play a team that really has nothing to lose and a team that thrives on taking three‑point shots because if they have ten days where they get hot shooting those three‑point shots, you can be a higher seed and you can be in trouble.
I believe the whole key to this series is going to boil down to Houston’s ability to take care of the basketball. They’re a high‑turnover team, last in the league as far as in turnovers, and everyone knows that Oklahoma City is one of the best, if not the best, in the league in taking turnovers and turning them into quick points. If Houston can take care of the basketball, I believe Houston can have some success.
Q. Is this a case where McHale has adjusted to his talent as opposed to adjusting his particular philosophy of coaching do you think?
SAUNDERS: Yeah, I believe that. Kevin has always done that. I worked with Kevin for ten years, and so I know that Kevin has always been one to ‑‑ what personnel you have, let’s find a way to utilize the strengths of the personnel as best as we can. He’s probably had to bite his lip many times of not throwing the ball into the post as much as he would like, but it’s been a recipe right now that’s been successful for them, and they are one of the most exciting teams to watch.
I do believe what Bruce said about the dynamics of that series of Harden coming back to play Oklahoma City and all that was talked about earlier in the year, I can’t imagine that the Oklahoma City management was too excited about drawing Houston in that first round.
Q. Two things: Do you see any potential challengers for Miami who could really give them a scare, and also, on an unrelated note, what do you think of Monta Ellis saying that he’s just as good as Wade except for wins in the championships?
SAUNDERS: I can start with that. The first one, I don’t see anyone challenging them. I mean, I believe that there are teams that are good teams, not taking anything away from those teams, but I believe the way Miami is playing this year, and I give a lot to credit to Spoelstra who I think is my Coach of the Year. You take a team that won a championship being defensive oriented he came back this year and changed his offensive philosophy and they became the most efficient offensive team because of that and then their defense caught up with how they were playing late in the year, and you look they’re like 30‑2 since the All‑Star break. They’ve really been off the charts, and the way LeBron is playing. There’s teams that are going to be able to beat them a game or two maybe, but I can’t see anyone that has the ability to beat them four games in a row.
You know, Monta Ellis, that comment, all I can say is Dwyane Wade has been ‑‑ when you look at players, I look at ‑‑ it’s the total package, and when I look at Dwyane Wade, his ability to do what he does offensively, to be a facilitator offensively, to score offensively, to offensive rebound, to defend, and then you throw that into his ability to win, and I think the last thing I look at, which has really gone unnoticed a lot, he’s really put his ego aside when LeBron ‑‑ especially when LeBron came, and here’s a guy that he really owned that franchise, and to be able to set aside his ego knowing that this is going to make them as a group a lot better and share the limelight with both Bosh and with LeBron James, I mean, that says something about the character of who he is.
So I’ve always been a Dwyane Wade fan. I know there’s things that are always said about players, but all the things that Wade does, he doesn’t have to settle for anyone talking about anything.
BOWEN: One of the issues that you have with players, I feel the way he does as far as the Heat and what coach has said as far as that series goes. But the thing about players that we have to understand is that to some extent they feel like they’ve got to promote themselves. Now, I don’t feel he’s the same player as Dwyane Wade. He talks about the only thing is Wade has more victories and a championship. Well, it’s more to it than just that. Wade is more of a complete basketball player. For so many years at Golden State they were trying to figure out is Monta a 1 or a 2, okay, we’ll play him off the ball with Baron Davis back then. Next thing you know, it’s just more or less Monta is a scorer. You have to develop other facets of your game. He didn’t ask Monta Ellis to go and guard one of the top wing players when they play a certain team, so that takes that equation out, and the fact that you feel like you have to say things like that unfortunately is ‑‑ it’s a whole byproduct of ‑‑ as a youngster, your parents tell you things like you can be anything you want to, but some folks didn’t tell them, it’s got to be in realistic view.
Q. For both of you, I was wondering, who do you think is the toughest match‑up for OKC in the Western Conference? And then for Bruce, what do you think, at least locally, there’s been some comparisons between you and Sefolosha. I was wondering what you thought of that comparison.
BOWEN: I think the toughest match‑up for OKC would be either the Clippers or San Antonio. I think the experience with San Antonio and being that they don’t have Harden this year, it makes a huge difference for this ballclub as compared to last season. You look at the adjustments that can be made during the course of the Playoffs, James Harden brought a lot to that ballclub as far as facilitating for others. He created shots for others, he created shots for Durant, as far as him coming off the screen they could utilize Harden, bringing the ball up and getting them into their sets late in games. They miss that and they haven’t quite found that missing piece. I know that Kevin Martin is good without the ball, but you really miss Harden, his efficiency as far as being an all‑around talent, being able to defend as well as score and create his own shot.
Thabo Sefolosha, I don’t necessarily like people ‑‑ they kind of stunt people’s growth when they make comparisons sometimes. I think he’s been put into a system now where it’s a lot different than mine. It was more spot up for me, where he’s gone from a slashing player to this type of role, which is fine, because he understands the value of that. But I think he’s doing a fantastic job. I don’t ever ‑‑ I don’t like making comparisons to myself because I think somebody can be so much more than me.
With that being said, I think he’s doing a tremendous job. His long arms create problems for people, and he’s accepted that role. That’s the biggest thing is that even if someone does score on him, he doesn’t give up. He doesn’t give up on a play, and that’s where you measure the true competitor of a player is even if he’s guarding a top scorer and that scorer has 30 points, how well is he or how vested is he in the process of defending still.
SAUNDERS: When I look at a team ‑‑ Oklahoma City, if they look in the mirror, I think they look and they see Denver, and this is their biggest threat, because if you look at them offensively, they’re almost identical in a lot of the things that they do as far as points, shooting percentage. The biggest difference is that Oklahoma City is No. 1 in the league in free‑throw percentage and Denver is one of the worst teams in the league at 27. But when you look at whether it’s blocking shots, whether it’s offensive rebounds, whether it’s scoring in transition, getting up and down the floor, they both are the same. So I always say that there’s always a challenge when you have a team that has the same strengths as you because they can exert how they want to play in those strengths, and they’re going to have success.
Q. The Nuggets/Warriors series showcases two of the up‑and‑coming young guards in the league, Ty Lawson and Stephen Curry. Can you describe each player’s strengths and weaknesses and what they’re going to have to do to ascend in this postseason?
SAUNDERS: Well, I think this series, can you say ABA because this series might be a throwback to the old 132‑128 point games. I think this series lines up to be really the most exciting series on how these two teams play, and I think both these series, I really believe Denver right now has been pretty much unbeatable at home the second half of the season, and anyone that’s ever played Golden State knows how their fans are in Oakland and for Playoffs they’ll be off the charts, so home court is going to be huge in this series.
When I look at the two players, the difference is Ty Lawson is a player that makes the other guys on his team better by creating shots for them, by pushing the ball up the floor, getting them out in transition, where Steph Curry has become a phenomenal scorer with the ability to make three‑point shots and his ability to really create his own shots, whether it’s long three‑pointers or even his mid‑range game. So I think that’s the difference between both of them. Whichever one of those guards can exert their will and how they want to play and out play the other one I think is going to have a huge say in who’s going to have a chance to win those games.
BOWEN: Just to piggy back on that, the things that Denver brings, I love the fact that it’s not just one superstar, even though I think Ty Lawson is definitely headed in that direction. They do it in a variety of ways. There are guys that are able to have an impact on that ballclub. You look at Corey Brewer, who I felt like maybe two years ago he was on his way out of the league, and next thing you know he finds a home in Denver. He gets a championship with Dallas first, and now you look at him having an impact on the team. Wilson Chandler, the way this team gets up and down you never know who’s going to exactly be that person for them that night, and sometimes that creates more of an issue for a team because you’re so accustomed in the Playoffs trying to limit this guy or trying to limit that guy, but when you have different guys that can contribute at different times, I think it adds to the special quality of that ballclub, and as Flip said, with Golden State and Steph Curry, the fact that his shot making ability now, people are aware of that. Now, in the Playoffs people try to take away someone’s strengths so it’ll be interesting to see his adjustment to what the team does as far as trying to limit what he does. And if the kid Thompson can give an impact and seeing what David Lee can do, it’ll be interesting. But it’s all about the defense, and I don’t necessarily see the athletic guys for Golden State defending quite like the Denver Nuggets can.
Q. Wondering if you can assess whether you feel the Magic made progress in this rebuilding season and whether any of their young players have upside as potential All‑Stars.
BOWEN: Well, you know, it’s hard to say, really, what their group did as far as necessarily getting better. I think it’s one of those deals where you have to start the laying of the foundation, and they do have some players there as far as guys that you can look at and say, okay, we’re going to see how he continues to progress. In a day and age with young guys coming out of school so early, they haven’t reached their peak, and let alone you start to see their flaws as they get to this next level because of the scrutiny that they’re under as far as the scouting that takes place.
So I like the direction of what Jacque has been able to do there. As far as his trying to create a culture, it’s funny how when you’re dealing with a rebuilding situation and you don’t have that superstar, it’s kind of like the Spurs without Tim Duncan, if that never happens. I lived it in Boston because during that time when Tim was to be drafted and we thought we were going to get Tim Duncan. That didn’t happen, so it wasn’t until ‑‑ fortunately for us we got Paul Pierce.
But it’s who’s going to be there that will allow them to build around a guy. That’s when you truly start to see the value of the players that they have right now.
SAUNDERS: One of the toughest judgments that any organization has, whether it’s a coach, whether it’s general manager or even the fans is how do you judge a bad team, a team that’s been bad from a record‑wise, and how do you judge the players statistically when they put up stats on a bad team.
When I look at Orlando, I look at a couple guys, I look at Harkless, he’s a guy that has the ability to play in this league and be an effective player, and then when you look at how much their big kid in the middle, Vucevic, how much he improved this year. Those guys are going to be cornerstones. Are they going to be All‑Stars, you don’t know, but they’ve got Tobias Harris from Milwaukee, he played very solid for them down the stretch. So I think they have some foundation type players, but there’s no question that they have to have an influx of what you’d consider that when you look at a guy you don’t have to ask a question whether he’s going to be an All‑Star or not, and that’s kind of what Bruce said as far as Paul Pierce or those guys coming in. And I don’t really believe right now that you can look at that and say, like the question you asked, that that guy is an All‑Star. I think they can maybe grow into that, but there’s a lot that has to happen between now and them becoming an All‑Star. But they’re going to have a great draft pick, they’re going to have one of the top four draft picks or three picks, and so they’re going to pick up a good quality player.
Q. With the Nuggets and Warriors, if we’re looking at a possible up‑tempo series between the two, what kind of impacts can we expect from a player like Andrew Bogut?
SAUNDERS: Well, Bogut is going to have to have an impact because of the amount of big guys that Denver plays, and that they play Koufos, they’re going to play McGee, Faried sometimes is going to play at the center spot, especially the first two guys. He’s going to have to have some type of an impact. I do believe ‑‑ we talk a lot, this is going to be a shoot‑out ‑‑ at some point somebody is going to have to say we’re going to have to change the tempo of the game and maybe slow the game down to be more effective. If they can do that by getting the ball into Bogut and play off of him ‑‑ I thought that was a big key for them when they got Bogut, that they had the ability of shooting the ball at the perimeter, but now they also had an inside game. Then they’ve got a great mid‑range game where you can give David Lee the ball at 15 feet or around the bucket, and he has the ability to score.
Bogut is going to have to play for them just because of the other bigs that they have. The biggest thing is, is he going to be able to run with them because, especially McGee, if you can’t run with McGee you’re probably not going to be able to play, and that would be a big key, and if that happens you might see them go extremely small and start playing Lee at the center spot and going small. I think that’s one of the things that Mark Jackson is going to wait and that’s an adjustment he’ll probably make really on the fly.
Bruce talked before about Denver and how many guys that they have playing. I’m going to be interested to see how that plays out because as everyone knows, a lot of times in the Playoffs what ends up happening is that rosters end up slowing down, and they end up playing not as many guys as they played during the regular season.
I don’t believe George is going to do that, but it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out.
BOWEN: Bogut, I think he does present an issue for the fact of them getting up and down, as coach alluded to, with JaVale McGee getting out there and running. That’s one of the things that’s their strength. In the Playoffs one of the things you try to do is eliminate the strengths. Will the Golden State Warriors have the wherewithal to get back on defense or in the half‑court sets. That’s where it’s going to be key. It’s not the regular season. This is the way that you try to stay relevant in the Playoffs, and if you can’t do that, then it’s going to ‑‑ it can be a long night for you.
Q. Do you see the Bucks winning even a single game in this first‑round playoff series?
BOWEN: I think if Miami comes in with the focus that they’re trying to take care of business, and I think they will, I don’t think that they will win a game against the Heat. And it’s no discredit to who they are or what they’ve accomplished, it’s just when we talk about the Miami Heat, their defensive pressure is something that’s one of the most underrated facets to their game. Because of those high‑flying dunks that we see on TV, it is pretty much predicated on their defensive tenacity, getting a hand on the balls, swarming around the ball. Very rarely do you see this team not prepared for the defense or to take away the strength of an opponent. I really look forward to them trying to keep Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings out of the paint because once they get in the paint they can hurt teams that way.
But that is what I see more than anything else is Miami being a little too talented for that ballclub.
SAUNDERS: I agree with Bruce, and that’s ‑‑ Miami right now has been a juggernaut, and they basically do it at both ends of the floor, offensively and defensively. They’re in the top three in just about every offensive category when it comes to shooting. Defensively since the All‑Star break they’ve again been off the charts statistically.
And when I look at Milwaukee, what I think is interesting is they lead the league as far as in field goal attempts but they’re 28th in field goal percentage, and if you don’t shoot a good percentage against Miami you’re not really going to have a chance to beat them because you’ve got to put the ball in the basket so they can play against your set defense, because if you’re playing a lot in transition and you’re missing a lot of shots and they’re getting rebounds, and we know a lot of times LeBron is the guy getting the rebounds, he’s bringing off the break, it really puts so much pressure on your defense.
How Milwaukee could win games, it’s going to be pretty simple. If they shoot good percentages and get into that 48 and 50 percentage, they’ve have a good chance, but if they shoot how they’ve been shooting over the course of the year, they’re going to struggle because they won’t be able to beat them just with their defense.
Q. I just had a question regarding the Heat’s chances of going for a repeat, a back‑to‑back title. Just in terms of history, how much easier is it to remember a team that has won multiple championships, especially back to back, compared to a team that maybe had a one‑year run?
SAUNDERS: Well, you had the Lakers when they went through their series and they were similar to Miami and they were so dominant. The difference that they had is they had the ability to slow the game down with Shaquille in the post but also have their perimeter game.
I’m picking Miami to repeat just because of what we’ve talked about on the conference call, that they’re really the total package, and I think the only thing that will prevent them from repeating is any type of injuries that could evolve over the course of the Playoffs, whether it’s any of their players. They can’t afford to have a Chris Bosh or they can’t afford to have a Dwyane Wade, or LeBron, any of those guys get hurt. Last year if Chris Bosh doesn’t come back against Boston, Boston probably beats Miami in the series and Miami is not in the championship and they don’t win a championship. If they can keep healthy, I don’t see anyone stopping them.
BOWEN: I completely agree with that. It is something that has been lost, even for teams to get back. I think Detroit was last ‑‑ the Lakers and Celtics were the last two teams to really get back, and neither one of them ‑‑ I mean, it was the Lakers who accomplished it, but it’s really a hard feat, because number one, everyone realizes what you are, who you are, and you have to take on their best game every single night. Then you get to the Playoffs, and all it takes is one play. One play can determine something like that, and it can be a foul or it can be a made shot. It’s just that one moment that can lead to the process of possibly repeating or coming up short.
Q. This question is for Bruce, because you played for Riley down here in Miami. I was just curious, as you watch the Heat this year and the Harlem Shake and some of the sort of spirit of the team off the court a little bit, if you think if Pat had been coaching this team instead of Erik if some of that stuff would have happened, or what’s your view on that from having played for Pat?
BOWEN: Well, as you said, I remember speaking with Pat about two years ago, and he said, Bruce, I can’t coach today’s generation of kids. He said, it’s just hard for me because they don’t look at things the way I do. And Coach Riley was ‑‑ this is a day and age where guys are buddies even though they compete against each other, and they don’t mind hanging out with each other the night before a game, and that’s just the way it is. And what happens is when you have an old‑school coach that says I don’t want you doing that, the first thing that player thinks of is why is he trying to control my life, I’m going to come out and play hard anyway, why is this coach doing this. I think it adds to the credence of them really respecting Spoelstra, that that’s not Spoels’ thing, even though he was raised under Riley, but he is a disciplinarian, he wants guys to be focused, but at the same time he understands that it’s kind of a younger generation and guys that are more jovial and having a good time.
This is something that they all did together. It’s not ‑‑ it wasn’t a single guy that did it, it was everyone together, and it reminds me of the Trayvon Martin situation, where they all said I am Trayvon Martin and they put the hoodies on. It’s more about the camaraderie and the unity of the ballclub, and the fact that you get them having fun in a dancing way, that correlates with what goes on today as far as what the society is about.
Those are team bonding things, and it’s just a different way that guys do it now. I first went to ‑‑ when I was in Miami, Riley rented out the whole movie theater and we went to the movies together instead of going to practice, or he’ll change the flight plan so we go to New Jersey instead of Indiana one time. It’s about building the camaraderie, but at the same time he realizes that it’s a different day and age, and Spoels is handling it a different type of way which allows him to have the respect of the players, and it’s about his way, and that’s that.
Q. I was wondering, Kevin Garnett obviously earlier in the year got into a little situation with Carmelo Anthony, who he’ll be facing this time around. He’s done that maybe a couple of times in the last couple years. Did you see that much when you were coaching? And how do you kind of manage to allow a guy to be himself while maybe telling him to maybe rein in some of the trash talk or that sort of thing?
SAUNDERS: I saw that every day in practice. I saw it every day in games. I saw that for ten straight years. I mean, that’s ‑‑ I used to tell KG, your greatest strength can be your greatest weakness if you don’t control it, and his greatest strength is his competitiveness, and what he’ll do is he’s one of the ultimate players when it comes to approaching the game mentally and trying to get a mental edge on the opposition, and he will do whatever he feels he needs to do in order to try to get that mental edge.
Exactly what Bruce talked about in the question before about Pat Riley, KG is pretty much the same way. Prior to the game there’s no music playing, everything is going to be pretty straight, you’re going to be quiet from the shoot‑around on and you’re going to stay focused on how you’re going to approach the game.
As a coach, what you want your players to do, you want your players to go out, you want them to play hard, you want them to be on time, and you want them to execute the game plan that you have, and you don’t want to do things that end up being counterproductive. So are there times when maybe Kevin got a little bit too emotional, because when he does do that, then it takes away from maybe his ‑‑ how efficient he plays offensively, you would talk to him a little bit.
But how he is and his competitiveness going into the games, I mean, he’s not going to shake hands with any of those Knicks for all seven games until the series is over, and that’s just how he approaches it. He approaches it in a very workmanlike way.
Q. Do you think when the typical things that are said on the court get out, that that’s wrong, that it should stay between the lines?
SAUNDERS: Yeah, and sometimes when the stuff gets out, I’d say 75 percent of the time it’s probably not even accurate. Just like many times, we’re talking here to a lot of reporters, many times clips are all of a sudden taken out of context. You’d like those things to stay between the lines, and I think most of the time a lot of these players, off the court, they’re friends. The guys that Kevin is probably talking about, after the season, they see each other in the summertime and they probably give each other a hug and go about their business.
I think it’s just one of those competitive things that happens, and I liken it back to really AAU basketball where these guys start playing against each other so much over the course of these summers, over these last 15 years, it started 20 years ago that they’re playing against each other every weekend. I know there’s a big tournament out in Los Angeles this weekend, an AAU tournament, and you’ve got kids from all over the country, top kids playing against each other, and that’s how they become so close.
So I think it becomes a competitive thing. I know when I played against my brother, back in the back there, we always had a lot of trash‑talking, too.
Q. I’m just curious, with Erik Spoelstra, if you had to pick the best thing he’s doing with this team, what would you say that is?
SAUNDERS: I’d say two things. I’d say adapting how he’s playing and patience. He adapted a style of play, as I mentioned earlier, where they really changed how they played offensively. He’s shown great patience, and when I say patience there’s a couple things that go with that. He’s let the players pretty much be themselves, whether it be the Harlem Shake or a lot of the things, he’s let them pretty much create their own identity and have a little bit of fun, and I think that’s even made a little bit more success for the team because the success that they’ve had they’ve carried over to having a lot of fun doing it. He’s shown a lot of patience, he’s adapted a style of play to how they want to play, and a lot of people have to realize, it becomes ‑‑ many times it becomes much more difficult to coach superstar type players and their egos and manage those egos, it’s harder to do that than coach a team that maybe doesn’t have nearly as much talent. So I think him being able to manage these egos, his adaptability, those have been two big keys.
BOWEN: I go with the discipline. You look at the discipline LeBron has had this year, ever since he’s been with Miami, he’s been to the championship two years in a row, and it’s no knock against Cleveland, but he had free reign there, and in Miami it’s a control system. It’s discipline there, so you have lines to operate within, and I think they realize that this young man is such a great leader but he needs guidelines, as well.
In the midst of those guidelines you see what he’s been able to accomplish as far as being a leader there, and it’s funny because I’ve spent time around him and he’s just a guy that people just gravitate towards, kind of like Derek Jeter. I spent some time with him with the USA Baseball team before, and I was really amazed how guys just kind of end up around those guys, and I think that’s what’s allowed ‑‑ I would say Spoelstra has allowed that because of the discipline and structure that he has in Miami now.
Q. I have a question about the Celtics. Jeff Green has come on strong in the second part of the season. He’s never done a lot in the Playoffs, though. Jason Terry on the other hand didn’t have a great regular season for the Celtics but he’s always been known as a playoff player. Which of these two guys do you think will play a greater role for the Celtics?
BOWEN: I look for Jeff to really kind of continue on with his progression. I think he has coaches and players that are asking him, hey, we need more of this, we need more of this type of Jeff. He’s had a year off, and so there’s rust there, but more importantly, Jeff was never a player that was rah‑rah‑rah or anything like that, he’s just the opposite of Jason Terry. But a kid with talent, and it’s just about bringing that talent out, and I think Doc is trying to figure out exactly which buttons to push that continues to have him in aggressive mindset of taking the ball to the basket or just being vested in the process at that particular moment.
Jason Terry on the other hand, yes, Jason is a very good three‑point shooter. He hasn’t had the year that no one really expected that he would have, but there’s still life left there, and it’s these types of moments ‑‑ I remember going against him when he was in Dallas. After playing in Atlanta all those years he got with a competitive team and really engulfed himself in the whole process of the rivalry between the Spurs and the Mavs. I look at this now, now you’re going with Knicks and Celtics, and I think he’s going to have a big hand in that because once his juices get going, then that’s the player that we recognize.
SAUNDERS: Yeah, I think when I look at these teams, I think back to when Rondo got hurt, and I called Doc that night and the next day, and we talked, and the first thing Doc said to me, hey, it’s all hands on deck, and basically that’s their approach with this team, and it’s not one guy that they’re going to look at to say he’s got to step up more than anybody else. I think in order for them to have success, Jeff Green is going to have to be off the charts in the role that they ask him to play and Jason Terry in the role that he plays.
The thing you mentioned which is always key is that there’s certain players when they get in the Playoffs, they have the ability to almost play at a higher level, and those players are far and few between. There’s not a lot of them. Rod Stricklen is one of those players that always had a better ‑‑ scored many more points in the Playoffs than he did during the regular season and more assists. And Jason Terry can also be more effective doing that same type of thing.
Q. Flip, is it true that you taught KG how to trash talk?
SAUNDERS: I’m not taking credit for that. My kids wouldn’t approve of the language that’s used at times, so I’m not taking credit for that.
Q. I’m just wondering what you think of Nets/Bulls match‑up and what you think of Deron Williams’ play of late.
SAUNDERS: I’ll tell you what, intriguing match‑up. I know a lot of people have gone ‑‑ say whoever has home court is going to win this one, but I’m going with the Bulls, and I’m doing that because even though they’re banged up a little bit up front, I just think that their up front people they have, even though Noah is going to be limited with his plantar fasciitis, they’ve got Noah, they’ve got Gibson, they’ve got Boozer, so they’re going to be able to throw up numbers at the up‑front guys of Lopez of Humphries, of Evans and of Blatche. I think those guys defensively are key ‑‑ go so much.
And then I look right now, Deron is having a phenomenal year here in the second half of the season. I coached Kirk Heinrich, I’ve been with him and I always am watching him. He is probably as good or better than any point guard in the league at being able to get through pick‑and‑roll type situations, and I think he’s going to give them a plus in that area to try to mainstay Williams as much as he can, and when I look at how Nate has played here in the last three weeks, he’s been off the charts.
And you’re putting the Bulls in a situation where a lot of people are picking them not to win, and I think that’s very dangerous.
But I’m going with a game that’s going to slow down a lot. I’m going with the defensive team because I think both teams are going to have trouble scoring. But as I said before, I think the injuries, the plantar fasciitis is going to win out, whether it’s going to be with Noah or whether it’s going to be with Joe Johnson, whichever guy can probably play more minutes and have a little bit more success playing is probably going to have the better chance for that team to be successful. But I’d say looking at it right now my quick pick is for the Bulls.
BOWEN: Just to reiterate what Coach has said, I think the Bulls is the team that’s best suited for the Playoffs. They play a slow‑down type of basketball as far as defense first. Coach Tom Thibodeau does that like Doc Rivers, and he really slows the game down because at the end of the day, this is what they fight for, to get to the Playoffs and then allow their talents to kind of take over from there. So I think defensively they do have the capacity to do well, and then on the other side, the Nets just haven’t gelled together quite like people would think. I think one thing we’ve seen with all the big major moves of big‑time players, of big‑time athletes in our game, is that what LeBron was able to do in Miami was special; he, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, that’s special, and I don’t think that’s given enough credit.
We see teams coming together now and they’re having such issues with chemistry. I think it says a lot about the level of play as far as guys being able to take a backseat a little bit in order to allow other guys to feel comfortable and then get better, as well.