When Flip Saunders arrived to Detroit, he was hailed as a player's coach, someone who would keep the team's business in the locker room and never use a reporter's microphone as an opportunity to air his grievances with players. After two years of Larry Brown, it was a much-appreciated change.
During the four and a half month marathon of the regular season, it worked great: the Pistons set a franchise record with 64 wins, four players made it to the All-Star game, three were named to All-Defensive teams, one stayed in the MVP conversation for much of the year and another took home his fourth NBA Defensive Player of the Year award.
Over the last two-plus weeks, though, everything has gone haywire. The Pistons dropped three of their last five against the Cavs and three of their first four against the Heat. Before Monday's game, several players started chirping in the press, publicly second-guessing their coach for the first time in recent memory.
After Monday's game, which put the Pistons on the brink of elimination, Saunders broke trend and fired back. Chris McCosky of the Detroit News writes:
The morning after some of his players tossed him under the proverbial bus, Pistons coach Flip Saunders fired back. He delivered a one-word edict to his team -- accountability.
"My message to them?" Saunders said. "You want to talk about a lack of defense, yeah, there's a lack of defense because guys aren't doing what they're supposed to do. If I gave up 50 points in the paint (which the Pistons did in Game 3) and I gave up 13 straight-line drives to the basket when I am supposed to be guarding somebody -- I mean, these are things you learn in the sixth grade. Stay between your man and the basket.
"If you can't do that, you are right, there is going to be a defensive lapse. This isn't about egos right now. This is about winning. If you have a job to do, go out and do your job."
Ben Wallace, most notably, and others complained after Game 3 that the Pistons had gotten away from their defensive concepts and that Saunders has spent too much time coaching offense at the expense of the defense.
"This is the same group that said we did more defensive drills this year than they ever did," Saunders said, shaking his head. "I don't agree with what Ben said about practice, but we all know how Ben gets sometimes."
Saunders also had a rebuttal to Tayshaun Prince's complaint that Lindsey Hunter should have played more in the second half.
"It's kind of ironic," Saunders said. "The reason we couldn't put Lindsey on the floor was because Tay wasn't scoring. I had to keep the starting guards on the floor."
This could very well be "too little, too late," and it may be nothing more than a desperate man clutching at straws, but no matter what I have a lot more respect for Saunders now than I did before reading this. I'm already on the record defending Saunders in this (almost) botched march to glory, but now I'm even more in his camp.
There's nothing Saunders can do if the players won't guard the paint like their season depended on it (and we now know it does). Is it Saunders' fault that no one was able to send Dwyane Wade sprawling on his ass until Dale Davis entered the game? Is he the one that asked Rasheed Wallace to waste his fouls on silly hand-checks? Is he the one in Ben Wallace's head, telling him not to go to the hole hard because he might be fouled and be embarrassed on the free-throw line?
When I launched this site back in October, the very first post included this quote from Chauncey Billups:
"We're going to miss Larry Brown, but so many times it was just about Larry," says Billups of the 65-year-old coach, who at first appeared on his way to the Cavaliers but wound up with the Knicks. "It was always, 'Larry did this, Larry did that,' with the result that I don't think the players got enough credit."
The Pistons need to man up and take responsibility. No more "Flip didn't do this, Flip didn't do that" -- if they lose this series, it's on the players and only the players.
On a sidenote, I'm obviously biased, but I still think the players can pull this out and restore at least some semblence of locker room harmony heading into the offseason. It's true, a 3-1 deficit looks awfully imposing, but I can't see the Boys in Blue rolling over at the Palace on Wednesday. And if they head back to Miami 3-2, well, hell, the Pistons just came back from being down three games to two against the Cavs, winning a critcal Game 6 in a far more hostile environment at the Q.
Saunders answers criticism by players [Detroit News]