Cautious with the Coronation

Yes, Avery Johnson can coach. But let's not allow the Dallas Mavericks coach to cut in line in front of Red Auerbach just yet.

Johnson, the NBA's Coach of the Year, is getting canonized for his injection of Devin Harris into the starting lineup before Game 2 of Dallas' Western Conference Semifinal series against the San Antonio Spurs. The move, which sped up tempo and was the catalyst for the Mavs' blowout victory, was--cue those Guinness ads--brilliant! (Ironically, Johnson's smaller, quicker lineup was exactly what Don Nelson's "smallball" system looked like here for years. Remember the criticism, that is couldn't win in the playoffs?) Before we drown Avery in "that's why you're the coach of the year, baby!" praise and chalk up Games 3 and 4 Saturday and Monday at American Airlines Center as automatic W's, gnaw on this little nugget: Why didn't Johnson make the line-up move before Game 1?

I mean, seriously, let's not suggest Avery's drastic move was in response to something the Spurs did. In Game 1 San Antonio did what it's done all year and for the past five years--bear-hugged on defense, dumped the ball to Tim Duncan and tried to keep the score in the 80s. Avery and staff had a week to prepare for the series. But it was only after losing Game 1 that he decided to make his move. Trust me, the lineup alteration appears genius. It transformed San Antonio's vaunted defense from bear hug to bear rug. But look deeper, and it feels more like a panic gamble that paid off. --Richie Whitt

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