First Cup: Monday

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: As often as the headlines go sour in professional sports, what a kick to hear Coach Vinny Del Negro walk through the locker room singing, "It's a miracle." Del Negro stopped to crack: "I just got a text from Mike Eruzione." Everything, including ABC-TV's pregame concentration on Memphis, was stacked against the Clippers. And yet inside the Clippers' locker room Chris Paul made sure everyone knew he had already booked a flight to San Antonio for his wife and son. "And I didn't want them going there without me," he said. Memphis has its mottoes; the Clippers have their leader in Paul. But maybe this series never gets this far if it isn't another veteran in Caron Butler who opts to play with a broken hand and no pain medication. Maybe it was the third time, or the fourth, that he got his hand whacked, but all Butler can remember is that he could not feel the fingers on his hand as he went to shoot free throws. "I'm going to be crying all the way to San Antonio," he said to the courtside media, and that was with two quarters still to play because he believed his team was going to prevail.

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: This was a season brimming with all kinds of peril for the Memphis basketball franchise. The lockout could have destroyed the momentum from last season. The team could have been sold to Larry Ellison and his moving vans. The Grizzlies could have allowed themselves to be brought down by the Randolph/Arthur injuries. Instead, there was that moment, with 4:05 to go, towels and hopes held high. That's all you're promised as a sports fan. You're not promised a championship. People always talk about how winning brings a town together. But it's not the winning. It's the caring, the moments of shared agony. Ask any fan of the Boston Red Sox or the Chicago Cubs. So, yes, Sunday was a bummer, an ugly exhibition of basketball that only a mother -- or a Clippers fan -- could love. But if you let that define the season, you're looking at it all wrong. "It was a very satisfying season with a bitter end," said Lionel Hollins. "Hopefully, the sun will come up tomorrow. I'm pretty sure that it will."

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: The Heat’s MVPs took over when Miami needed them most Sunday. The plural there is not a mistake. LeBron James is the NBA’s newly minted league MVP, but if anybody doubted (or forgot) Dwyane Wade’s continuing value around here, Game 1 of this second-round playoff series offered a rather timely reminder. This matchup is supposed to be the Indiana Pacers’ team approach against Miami’s more star-driven makeup. If so, here is your early scoreboard Stars 1, Team 0. ... Heat president Pat Riley said something telling on that topic Saturday at the announcement that James became the eighth player in NBA history to win three MVP awards. Riley had mentioned how Michael Jordan had won all his MVPs and all his championships and said, “By being a team player? Nah. By being Michael Jordan.” Bingo. ... Two superstars in charge is not everybody’s idea of what a “team” should be. Try to find a Heat fan who’s complaining today.

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: After the game, Pacers guard George Hill was checking out the final score sheet, so I asked him if anything jumped out at him that would explain this loss. "No comment," he said. Then he commented. "Y'all know,'' he said, clearly referring to the 38-28 free-throw disparity. "We know. Everybody knows. The world knows. But sometimes it's better left unsaid." Mr. Hill, Mr. Stern on line 1. Was there a free-throw-attempt and free-throw-make disparity? Obviously. Are guys like LeBron James and Dwyane Wade going to get calls that Paul George and Darren Collison aren't going to get? Obviously. Did it hurt the Pacers to have so many players in early foul trouble? Obviously. Deal with it. Losers whine. And then they go home for the summer. Don't be that fan base. Don't be that city. ... If you want to know the real reasons the Pacers lost this game read on: Danny Granger and Paul George were complete no-shows. When Granger, the leading scorer, makes 1-of-10 shots and scores seven points, has one more turnover than shot made, you have no chance to beat a good team on the road.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Kevin Garnett insists with dagger looks and sharp rejoinders that his game has not changed of late. He takes such suggestions as insults, and says this is simply the way he has been all along. Well, not to argue with a man of wealth and taste, but ... baloney. On rye, with a dash of hot mustard. We’re not suggesting Garnett made a deadline deal with Mephistopheles or anything, but he has clearly been a greater force of late. The eyes have it, and the numbers offer support. So does Flip Saunders, the coach for his first 10 NBA years and now a consultant for the Celtics. “From an offensive standpoint, I’d agree that this is the best he’s played in a while,” Saunders said. “And it’s because he’s being more assertive than maybe you’ve seen in the past.” The Kevin Garnett you’re seeing on the offensive end right now — the one who is establishing position in the paint and demanding the ball — is the same one who went for 28 points in the Celtics’ lone win over Miami in last year’s playoffs. Not the one who slipped to seven points on 10 shots the next game.

  • Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Game 1 was lost, but confidence was gained for the 76ers. Nearly everything coach Doug Collins was hoping for his team to do against the ultra-experienced Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series, they did. They got big leads, they thwarted runs, they defended. But they lost a one-point game, 92-91. Still, besides a win there could not have been a better game for the Sixers at TD Garden. They put a scare into the Celtics, into their crowd. They not only could have won the game, they really believe they should have. There is as much doubt surrounding the Celtics as there is confidence emanating from the Sixers. Sunday, the team gathered for a film session before taking to the court to just loosen the muscles, take some shots, have some fun. The elderly Celtics, meanwhile, were told to stay away from the court by coach Doc Rivers, in order to rest some of the bumps and bruises accumulated during a tough six-game series with the Atlanta Hawks that ended on Thursday. That shows just one of the many differences between these two teams. The biggest one is the abundance of playoff experience, and wins, gathered by most of the Celtics. It is something they went back to on Saturday to help them pull out a victory after trailing by as many as 13 points in the first half, 10 in the second.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Seemed like a quick series was inevitable, and though the Thunder hung tough in April 2010, taking the series to six games, no ever thought the Lakers were vulnerable. That has changed. The Thunder team that awaits the Lakers in a Western Conference semifinal series that begins Monday night is different from those Baby Boomers of two years ago. This Thunder team is not an upstart. Not seeking an upset. This Thunder team has legit championship aspirations. And this Thunder team was built to beat LA. That Thunder team started Nenad Krstic and Jeff Green opposite Bynum and Gasol. This Thunder team starts Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka. Big difference. Big, big difference. Krstic was an adequate offensive center but defensively deficient. Green could score but was outmanned trying to stop big or skilled power forwards, and Gasol is both big and skilled. Thunder mastermind Sam Presti knew that the road to NBA titles has been going through Los Angeles for 40 years. He knew Bynum or Gasol or both would be Lakers for years to come. So Presti shipped Green to Boston for Perkins, the NBA's best post defender, and signed him to a four-year contract extension. That trade has paid off handsomely over the last 15 months. But at no time is it more valuable than now, with another Thunder-Laker series on the starting line.

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: World Peace said he wasn't worried about the reception he's bound to receive tonight from Oklahoma City's fans. Kobe Bryant acknowledged it and said it might be something the Lakers need to get past in order to play their game. "It's going to be intense," Bryant predicted. "The crowd is obviously going to have a field day with that. I'm sure their players will generate some type of energy from it. For us, we've just got to keep our poise and do what we do." World Peace's return to the active roster Saturday made the Lakers whole again and they benefited from his defensive intensity and his shooting touch from the perimeter. They'll need all that and more from him against the Thunder. The World Peace vs. the Thunder storyline is one of many in this series. It is, after all, the first playoff matchup between the Lakers and Derek Fisher since they traded him to the Houston Rockets on March 15, creating an opening at point guard to acquire Ramon Sessions from the Cleveland Cavaliers. ... In many ways, the Nuggets were the perfect warm-up act for the Lakers' rumble with the Thunder. Denver was young, fast and athletic but lacking in the star power and the snarl the Lakers expect to see from Oklahoma City.