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May 20, 2008

Flip Saunders


Q. From what we're sensing around the team, not on tightness but on focus, have you noticed the last four days it seems like the level of seriousness?
COACH SAUNDERS: I think they're focused, I think they're anxious. We went through a situation where for a couple days you really didn't know who you were going to play. So the anxiety of not knowing who you were going to play, and then when you find out who you're going to play, then you try to prepare for those days.
We've had some time off, and as much as anything, I think they're focused. They're anxious to get going. I think there's also then that excitement.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about your young players who have played major roles throughout the playoffs and just their understanding of this, because your veterans know what's at stake but your young guys not so much?
COACH SAUNDERS: I don't know if they do. I don't know if they do understand. Every playoff series that you're in is different, and every one as you keep on progressing and going from first round to conference semis and now to the Conference Finals, the pressure heats up, and what you hope happens is you hope that that pressure doesn't turn into stressful situations.
I think it's good for teams to play with pressure. I think as Chris just asked a question about a team being focused. I think there's some pressure to go out and produce, and I think it's good to have that, but you don't want that to all of a sudden become a stressful situation. Veteran players understand that; young players don't. Tonight is going to be a whole new experience for those guys, and as I've said from day one, the more time they get on the floor in pressure situations, the better they're going to be in the future.

Q. After Game 7 of the Celtics-Atlanta series, Doc mentioned that you gave him a phone call and said, "You've got the monkey off your back now. You've finally won a playoff series. I know how you feel." Could you speak a little bit about the relationship you have with him. I know you were coaches together in the Goodwill Games.
COACH SAUNDERS: Well, of course, Doc, we coached together in the Goodwill Games. I was talking before to somebody the other day, and I think a lot of people think right now these two teams could play each other without coaches at times. And as I told somebody, and in Doc's situation, a lot of times it's more difficult to coach teams with talent, and especially in his situation when you've got two new players that have given the impact that they have, because when you have teams that maybe aren't quite as talented, they'll tell the coach, whatever you want me to do, I'll do it because if we get beat, I'll blame it on you.
Sometimes when you have very talented teams, they'll say don't coach me and if we get beat, we'll still blame it on you. So to be able to take an extremely talented team, as Doc has done, to coach those guys and get those guys to play exactly how he wants them to play, and that's a credit to what he's been able to do. It's happened that they had KG, and when they traded for him, I said, "You're not going to get anybody that's any better to solidify your team because he understands what a professional is. He understands what the league is about. He understands the league."
So I guess I'm happy for Doc, where he's at. But as I told him at one time, this is far enough (laughter).

Q. If you go back to '04 or even earlier, what did you see in KG that you see in him now, or how have you seen him grow?
COACH SAUNDERS: I think he's the same that he's been. I mean, the passion that you guys see him play with on the floor during games, he plays with that same passion or more as far as in practice. Because he brings it every day, he makes other players bring that, and a lot of times that's your young players. So he's always been somebody that's been able to help bring young players along and really teach them what this game is about and the respect that he has.
I remember the first time I met him with Kevin McHale and he had worked out for us, and the first thing he said is Mr. McHale, Mr. Saunders. It's always Mr. Russell, Mr. West. That's just his respect for the people that have come before him and what they've done. So he steps on the floor, he feels like he's got to play with that passion and give it everything that he has because of that.
But his game is the same. You can always put in the books he's going to get over 20 points, over 10 rebounds and 5 assists. And he plays hard and he's going to play with a great amount of emotion. He's done that since the day he stepped on the floor as a high school player, and the first year after that when he solidified himself as an All-Star.

Q. Who did you decide to activate?
COACH SAUNDERS: Amir Johnson will be activated for us.

Q. What do you find in the first games of a series after teams have either had long layoffs or coming off one that just ends, which is a hurdle to overcome when you're facing all of a sudden a brand new opponent when you've been facing the same opponent for a few games in a row, what usually happens?
COACH SAUNDERS: Well, a lot of it is the style of play. I think to Boston's credit they played very physical in Cleveland which was a very physical, defensive team, which is how we play. So they've probably prepared to play. From out standpoint, we've played against a dominant big man in Howard, which Garnett possesses some of the same qualities rebounding-wise and protecting the paint. So both we've been able to see a little bit as far as adjustments should be.
The biggest thing for team coming off seven games as Boston, they're going to be competitively honed in because only two days ago they were playing a seventh game. We've been off for a while. It's going to take us a while to probably get the competitive juices flowing, but we'll get there.
Like all series, the first game in the beginning is kind of like a heavyweight fight, everyone is going to test each other to see where they are at, what the match-ups are, see what people can do, and take it from there.

Q. You've coached teams like the one you have now with lots of different talented players, and you've coached teams that have kind of been in rebuilding mode, as well. Is it just a different challenge or a greater challenge when you've got a team with more talent?
COACH SAUNDERS: I think it's a bigger challenge, the teams with more talent. The teams with not as much, you might not win as much, but they're going to go out and, like I said, they're so focused. Teams that are talented, as a coach sometimes you have to give them a little bit longer rope, to give them freedom because if you take away their instinctive playing, you take away maybe the best thing that they can do. So as a coach you have to judge. That's always tough.
This league has always been a league where a lot of coaches -- sometimes I say you want to have so much of a footprint on that team that you try and control everything they do. I've never tried to do that because I think that players have the ability to make plays. They've got to know that you have confidence in giving them the freedom in order to do that.

Q. Is there feeling out in a game like this or do you guys know each other well enough that you go into it not having to feel each other out?
COACH SAUNDERS: You're going to feel each other out at the beginning of the games. That happens almost in any series now. We have an idea what they're going to do, they have an idea what we're going to do. It's a matter of going out and doing it right from the beginning. Especially in the first game of a series like this, the Conference Finals, the emotion of the game, the beginning of the game, there's so many factors that factor into that this you want to just start playing. I think as it progresses you'll see better basketball as it progresses.

Q. How long was Stuckey on the Pistons' radar screen during the whole drafting process of last season?
COACH SAUNDERS: Well, Rodney, he was way back. First time they probably saw him, Joe saw him on film, and they saw him play in person last year, middle of the year, Stuck was somebody that we pretty much locked in. I don't think it was any secret at this time already that people had said, Stuckey is going No. 14 to the Pistons. Our hope was that he was still going to be there.
And Rodney Stuckey has an opportunity to be a special player. He continues to get better. He's got a lot of confidence. Like all young players, he's going to play good at times and he's going to struggle. But when he struggles he always come back, so he's going to be a special player.

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