Posted: Tuesday May 30, 2006 12:01PM; Updated: Tuesday May 30, 2006 1:17PM
In taking over a Pistons team that had reached two straight Finals, Flip Saunders had no room for error is this year's playoffs.
Marty Burns will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
As an NBA point guard for 16 years, Avery Johnson was used to sizing up situations on the basketball court and thinking fast on his feet.
But the rookie Mavs coach probably never imagined how much he'd rely on that ability as a coach in the playoffs. In this year's postseason Johnson has changed his starting lineup several times to adjust to his opponent. From Devin Harris to Keith Van Horn to DeSagana Diop, the Mavs have had a revolving rotation.
So far most of the moves have worked pretty well, as Dallas took a 2-1 series edge over Phoenix into Tuesday's Game 4 showdown.
But Johnson, this season's Coach of the Year, is hardly alone in having to react quickly this postseason. He's also far from alone in facing intense pressure from fans and media ready to pounce on any mistake he might make. Pistons coach Flip Saunders, Heat coach Pat Riley and Suns coach Mike D'Antoni also face tremendous scrutiny.
In fact, it seems fair to ask if there has ever been a conference-finals round with more pressure on the four men holding the clipboards.
Here's a look at the four semifinal coaches and what they're up against, listed by the amount of pressure each faces.
Flip Saunders, Pistons
Talk about expectations. Saunders took over a Pistons club that reached two consecutive Finals appearances under Larry Brown. All he did was make them a more dangerous offensive team while leading them to the NBA's best record, 64-18, and home court advantage in the playoffs. Many expected the Pistons to romp through the East en route to the NBA title.
Instead, the Pistons have struggled much of the postseason, and the sniping has begun. Did Saunders let his team become complacent? Did he overemphasize offense during the regular season at the expense of their trademark D? Why couldn't he make the adjustments to stop LeBron James in the last series, or to exploit Miami's slow perimeter defense in this series?
Even some Pistons players have voiced criticisms. After Game 3, Rasheed Wallace said he didn't like Saunders' use of the Hack-A-Shaq strategy. Tayshaun Prince said he was disappointed that Lindsey Hunter didn't play more. Ben Wallace noted that the coaches didn't work as much on defense in practice.