First Cup: Wednesday

May, 23, 2012
5/23/12
4:27
AM ET
  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Alternate alliterative slogan now fitting for this Heat-Pacers playoff series: No blood, no bling. It’s getting nasty in here. The team that gets through this second-round series — and that’s looking unmistakably like Miami now after Tuesday night’s 115-83 home rout — will have the scars and bruises to prove it. They handed out stickers made to look like Band-Aids to fans arriving at Tuesday night’s Game 5 in honor of Udonis Haslem needing nine stitches above his right eye from a flying Pacers elbow in the previous game. Before long, Dwyane Wade would himself need a Band-Aid, and not a pretend one, bleeding from above his right eye after a flagrant foul by Indiana’s Tyler Hansbrough. (Payback was swift with Haslem’s ensuing flagrant foul to Hansbrough’s face — an obvious retaliation that might have gotten him ejected from the game by a less tolerant set of referees.) OK, all of the above is true. But don’t get the idea the narrative of this Heat team and postseason has changed and that Miami suddenly is a blue-collar bunch embodied by Band-Aids and rebounds and role players rising. As much as Miami as a franchise likes to embrace a defense-first identity personified by a guy like Haslem, whom coach Erik Spoelstra incessantly calls a “warrior,” this team’s championship hopes don’t live in the trenches. Miami’s hopes live way up in the air, where the stars are, where the high-flying LeBron James and Wade are doing their acrobatics and their dunks and all the other stuff that fill highlight reels and that made Tuesday’s home crowd swoon and roar. And they just did it again.
  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: This series isn't over. The Pacers still get to come home, and while a Game 7 in Miami is a daunting task, winning there is not impossible. But this didn't look good. It didn't feel good. For the first time in this series, there was a faint whiff of surrender in the heated Miami air. As tough and as strong as the Pacers have been, pushing it to at least a six- and maybe a seven-game series, they looked for the first time like they were just happy to be here. At the very least, they allowed themselves to be reduced to passengers along for the Miami Heat's wild ride. Did you know that Vogel is a magician? He's made a seven-footer, Roy Hibbert, disappear. And his players haven't helped, repeatedly failing to find ways to get the ball inside to the big man, who has one of the biggest mismatches in the series. And now, it gets worse. Or might get worse. Danny Granger twisted his ankle when James got under him on a three-point try, and Granger's availability in Game 6 is questionable. This is a deep team, but without Granger, the series is a no-hoper.
  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird doesn’t do a lot of interviews. He prefers to stay in the background and let his players get the attention. But when Bird talks, you listen. That was the case about two hours after the Pacers suffered the worst playoff loss in franchise history – 115-83 – in Game 5 against the Miami Heat. “I can’t believe my team went soft,” Bird said on the phone. “S-O-F-T. I’m disappointed. I never thought it would happen.” When asked to elaborate on those comments, an obviously frustrated Bird said, “That’s all I have to say.” Those are the strongest words I’ve ever heard Bird say about his team – good or bad – in my seven-plus years of covering the Pacers. ... Bird has spoken. Now we’ll see if his players respond to being publicly embarrassed – on the court and by their president – or if they’ll curl up in the fetal position in Game 6 on Thursday. If they do, the Pacers can go ahead and start their summer vacation now to avoid another embarrassing loss.
  • Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Every stop along the way in the playoffs, every new situation, every game this group of 76ers team had never faced before - all of these new experiences are things Doug Collins has cherished for his team as it has maneuvered in the current postseason. Regardless of the individual result, it's all good for the future, according to the coach, even if the present remains an unfinished work. Now, after all that fresh exposure, the Sixers face a challenge they have seen before ... a potential elimination game. It arrives in the 12th game of the postseason, later than most expected, but it arrives nonetheless, in the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday night when the Boston Celtics look to close out an Eastern Conference semifinal series that has brought out the best and worst in both teams. Last season, the Sixers lost their first three playoff games to the Miami Heat, staved off elimination once and then fell in Game 5 of that opening-round series. Not being swept was a small consolation perhaps, but there was no sense that surviving the one elimination game was because of nothing much more than a brief attention lapse by the Heat. This time around, however, much more is at stake. If the Sixers are able to hold serve at home and force a Game 7, they will have a real chance to advance to the conference finals for the first time in 11 years and just the second time since 1985. That would be a heady accomplishment for a team that limped to the end of the regular season, barely qualified for the playoffs, and looked like an easy out.
  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Logic would seem to dictate that the Celtics will take full note of their injury issues and launch a surgical strike that ends the series tonight. The need to get rest and rehab — even an extra day or two — is clear, and a good effort would keep the Celts from an extra game that could further strain their health. But logic has taken a severe beating from the Celtics of late. It appeared the Celtics would keep their act in order and take out the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 after winning three straight in the opening round. When they raced out to an 11-3 lead in Atlanta, it seemed the C’s could put the hosts out of their misery with a few good defensive stands in a row. But the visitors seemed surprised when the Hawks came out of a timeout and played as if they were trying to avoid an embarrassment that would be sitting on the Celtics bench by the end of the night. The last two games against Philadelphia have come down to one team gathering some energy in the third quarter and flustering the other. But when you consider the Celtics’ talent and experience, they should be expected to keep their heads in such situations. How confident are you that they will? Exactly.
  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: In a sense, this series sets up as a battle between the league’s old guard against its next wave. The Spurs are a grizzled four-time champion eager for one more shot at the crown during the Tim Duncan era. The Thunder are a young and hungry challenger impatient to assume the throne now. In order for the up-and-coming Thunder to take the next step, they must first overcome a savvy, veteran team that has successfully navigated this road before. ... As much as the Spurs believe they have their hands full with Oklahoma City, the Thunder are equally wary of the surging Spurs, who are riding a franchise-best 18-game winning streak. ... If there is a secret to handling OKC, the Spurs seem to hold the key. Over the past three seasons, since the Thunder became playoff regulars in 2009-10, the Spurs have gone 8-2 against them. That includes a 107-96 affair in Oklahoma City’s last trip to the AT&T Center on Feb. 4, when Tony Parker erupted for a season-high 42 points at Westbrook’s expense. ... With Durant, the 23-year-old former collegiate player of the year at Texas, locked up until 2016 and the 23-year-old Westbrook under contract until 2017, an NBA Finals appearance seems only a matter of time for the Thunder. The Spurs’ goal, starting Sunday: Delay Oklahoma City’s much-anticipated coronation for at least another year.
  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The series could be decided by Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker. That's how significant of a matchup this is. But don't expect Westbrook and Parker to cancel out each other. Both are much too good and far too dominant for that. Neither will be able to defend the other. So the key will be which player can consistently make others better while contributing in other areas. Because the Spurs' offense is much more pass-oriented than the Thunder's, it seems Parker will have the advantage in that department and Westbrook will have his work cut out for him. Westbrook will have to be locked in while defending Parker in the pick-and-roll and try to limit Parker's penetration. If Parker can blow by Westbrook it will break down the Thunder's entire defense and lead to layups and open 3-pointers. So Westbrook needs to focus on defense first and offense second. He doesn't have to be great. He just has to be solid.
  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: No disrespect to the Thunder, World Peace pointed out. They took advantage of the Lakers' mistakes late in Games 2 and 4 and won the series. "They seized it, they grabbed it and hung on to it." World Peace said. Nevertheless, World Peace could not ignore the part about the Lakers' mistakes and how they opened the door for the Thunder to take advantage. "We underachieved. The best team in the NBA lost in five. The best team in the NBA should be up 3-2 and playing tomorrow," World Peace said. The way World Peace sees it, one of the problems the Lakers faced was their reliance on Kobe Bryant late in games, especially some of the younger guys who haven't played on the big stage before. As a result, some guys may have deferred too much to Bryant rather than having confidence in themselves. His advice to them is simple. "Guys have to trust themselves more. Sometimes guys rely on Kobe too much," World Peace said. "Mitch (Kupchak) brought you here. Mitch also assembled teams that won championships. He knows what he's doing and he brought you here for a reason because you're good. So believe in yourself."
  • Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle: I'm not saying the Warriors won't draw in San Francisco. This is an astonishingly fine location, and the sheer novelty would pack the joint for a couple of years. But say the next five seasons bring a playoff drought, the type we've endured forever. There's no chance that S.F. arena would sell out. It's a different crowd, a different vibe, lacking that pure Oakland soul. Not that such concerns bother Lacob or Guber. They're onto something big here, and you can't blame them. These guys aren't Skyline High graduates, or veterans of the Rick Barry-Bernard King-Chris Mullin days. They don't remember Sonny Parker, Purvis Short or the smell of marijuana on an arena ramp in the anything-goes 1970s. These are Hollywood guys, essentially (and literally, in Guber's case). They're out to put the Warriors on a plane of sophistication with Chicago, New York, Boston and Philly. I wouldn't bet against them, either. And I don't think Stern would take the time to visit San Francisco, delivering a few cursory remarks on the podium, if he didn't think this would fly.
  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: Be honest: Does this sound like a man who is confident that his franchise player is going to sign an extension in Orlando? Which is why Martins and the soon-to-be-named new general manager must get an answer from Dwight by the draft. The Magic must begin the process of planning for the future — with Dwight or without him. This is best thing for everybody involved — the Magic organization, Magic fans and Dwight, himself. If he wants to stay, then call a mega-news conference before the draft, make the big announcement, sign the extension and become a civic hero once again. If he wants to leave, make it as quick and painless as possible, say goodbye and leave. This fiasco has been going on for far too long. Fans are disenchanted, teammates are in limbo, the organization is in disarray. The draft is more than a month away. It's time to make a decision and move forward. Haven't there already been enough hurt feelings, divided allegiances and lost jobs?

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