First Cup: Friday

Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: This series was never about the easy storylines and ancillary noise. It wasn’t about what team was tougher or which was “soft.” Was never about who was flopping or who was more physical. Wasn’t even about the flagrant fouls, suspensions, trash talking or dripping blood. Peel away all that static and distill to the essence and this Heat-Pacers second-round playoff series was about what Thursday night’s deciding Game‚ÄČ6 here was about. Just this: Miami was better. Was all along, and showed it. Miami was the team missing major players Chris Bosh to an injury and Udonis Haslem to a suspension, and playing on the hostile road against an utterly desperate opponent — and still Miami was better. Why? Simple. No over-analysis needed. Miami was the team that had the best player in this series — the best player in the entire NBA. Except LeBron James isn’t always even the best player on his own team. Sometimes that is Dwyane Wade. This time, when it mattered most, it was Wade. Man, was it ever. Brilliantly, emphatically, it was Wade. “He was spectacular,” James said.

Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: It came after the ball left Mario Chalmers' hands, just before the buzzer. It came as the ball fell through the net, with Wade already sliding down the baseline, cocking his fist. Punching the air. That was the punch-out of the pugnacious Pacers, for all intents and purposes, putting the Heat ahead 10 on the way to a 105-93 victory. Indiana tightened it some in the fourth quarter, pulling within six with 2:28 remaining, before LeBron James drove in for an easy layup, then swept in for a much tougher one, then drained a 20-foot step back jumper. So, yes, James (28 points) did plenty in this close-out contest, one that advanced the Heat to the Eastern Conference finals for a second straight post-season - Miami will face the winner of Saturday's Game 7 between Boston and Philadelphia, starting Monday. But James ranked second on this night to No. 3, who entered and left the arena in hot pink pants. "They're just mad they can't pull this off," Wade said of getting mocked in the ESPN studios. And, no, the Pacers couldn't pull off an upset. Simply, they got too much Wade. Too much 2006 Finals Wade. Took much 2008-09 should-have-been-MVP Wade. Too much splitting of double teams, too much slithering through the smallest crevices, too much banking in shots while drawing fouls. Forty-one points, on 17-of-25 shooting.

Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The Pacers have nothing to hold their heads down about. Did they beat themselves on Thursday? Absolutely. You can’t turn the ball over 22 times and expect to beat a team as good as the Heat. That’s not going to happen. Still, Pacers fans should happy about the season.I constantly got asked this season about what I thought about this year’s team talent wise, likeability, etc. Thursday wrapped up by ninth full season of covering the NBA. The 2011-12 Pacers are the second best team overall that I’ve covered, not that far behind the 2003-04 Minnesota Timberwolves. This Pacers team was seriously a team. There weren’t any cliques inside the locker room. Players hung out together off the court, often going to dinner on the road. As I made my way out of Bankers Life Fieldhouse at about 12:15 a.m. early Friday, I walked by the hallway that leads to the locker room and sitting outside of it was Paul George, Danny Granger and Dahntay Jones with their families. Nobody was in the rush to leave. They were laughing and joking. Jones said they were simply hanging out. This franchise is headed in the right direction. Of course they’ve got some work ahead of them to improve the roster if they expect to close the gap between them and the Heat. But that’s something to talk about down the road. For now, though, take pride in knowing that the Pacers are a franchise you should be proud of again.

Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: Basketball is in many ways a simple game, and it doesn’t get any simpler than this for Kevin Garnett: Do you want to win the game or not? If you do, you won’t finish the night with fewer shots in the paint than a guy a foot shorter than you are. Certainly Rondo is someone who slashes to the basket. He is not a jump-shooting point guard. He most often scores, when he scores, by driving to the basket and creating both openings and chaos, but that doesn’t mean he belongs in the paint more often than Kevin Garnett. There is no question Garnett can hit the jump shot. The question is can his team beat the Philadelphia 76ers if he insists on obsessing over it? The answer, quite frankly, is probably no. So what’s a 6-11 guy supposed to do? That’s not up to Rajon Rondo or Doc Rivers to decide. It’s up to Kevin Garnett.

Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News: Zero. Ofer. Nada. Those are numbers that hung around the neck of Boston Celtics center Kevin Garnett after the 76ers’ 82-75 series-tying win on Wednesday at the raucous Wells Fargo Center. Garnett scored 20 points and made nine field goals. But none of the points was scored from inside the lane, nor did any of his 20 attempts come from there. It was a concerted effort by the Sixers’ defense, orchestrated by coach Doug Collins and associate head coach Michael Curry. The plan was to have the big bodies, Spencer Hawes, Elton Brand and Lavoy Allen, push Garnett off the low blocks as much as possible. If he should get the ball there, double him and force him to throw it out to the non-shooters on the Celtics. In Wednesday’s win, the strategy worked. Garnett instead resolved to take his 6-11 frame to the perimeter, where getting offensive rebounds is impossible. ... When Garnett settles outside the lane, Boston’s offense looks like the Schuylkill Expressway at rush hour. With Paul Pierce looking for his shot and Ray Allen trying to run off picks for his and Rajon Rondo not driving because there is no one in the lane to dish to, the Sixers are in an ideal defensive position.

Dan Duggan of the Boston Herald: On Tuesday, 76ers coach Doug Collins showed his young team footage of the 1982 Eastern Conference finals, complete with images of Celtics fans adorned in white sheets to represent the ghosts of Boston Garden. While many of the players had never seen anything like it, the image was all too familiar to Hall of Famer Julius Erving, who starred for the Sixers from 1976-87. The teams met in five playoff series during Erving’s career, with Philly prevailing three times. With the current editions of the Celtics and Sixers reviving the rivalry with Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals tomorrow at TD Garden, memories have come flooding back to Erving. “It brings back all the memories because it seemed like it always came down to that,” said Erving, who recently was hired by the team to serve as a part-time adviser. “At least probably seven of the 11 years I played here it was always who was coming out of the East, Boston or Philly?” The stakes aren’t quite as high with this matchup, but Erving sees traces of the old rivalry developing. “It’s different. These two are probably not the two best teams in the NBA right now, but of the six teams that are left, they’re still here and they’re still competing and they still want it,” Erving said. “They feel like, ‘I’ve got to take this one game at a time but my goal is to try to win a championship.’ ” Erving hasn’t decided if he’ll attend Game 7, but he knows what the atmosphere will be like. "It will be very intense,” Erving said.

Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Since the team moved from Syracuse, the Sixers have been involved in a Game 7 a total of 11 times, winning five and losing six. On the road in Game 7, they are 1-5, with the lone win coming on a memorable afternoon in 1982 in the old Boston Garden when Andrew Toney scored 34 points in the conference championship game and the Celtics fans chanted "Beat L.A., Beat L.A." to the Sixers because they knew it would make them sound cool and classy and people would still talk about how cool and classy they were years later. The Sixers, alas, did not Beat L.A., but they did beat Bird, Parish, and McHale in that Game 7, which was pretty impressive. The second-generation Big Three that the Sixers will face Saturday don't present as daunting a task since they were never quite that big, and since they appear to be shrinking as the series continues. On the other hand, the Sixers don't seem to have an Andrew Toney on the roster, and if they win, it probably won't be by strangulation but with their preferred method of death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts. So, those are the numbers and the history, and this is the point of the column where it is worth mentioning that it's all a load of hooey. If we have learned anything about the current Sixers - other than their general disdain for getting to the free-throw line or making free throws once there - it is that numbers mean nothing when it comes to this team. Nothing.

Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Game 1 of the Western Conference finals will mark the first time Manu Ginobili has faced Oklahoma City this season. The oft-injured Spurs guard missed the first two meetings, Jan. 8 and Feb. 4, with a fractured left hand. Ginobili was inactive for the March 16 game for rest reasons. The Spurs went 2-1 against the Thunder without him. Ginobili believes his lack of court time against Oklahoma City could make a difference early in the series. “You don’t get a feel for how they guard you or what they do on pick-and-rolls and stuff,” Ginobili said. “The first game will be very important for me to understand what is going on.”

Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant has some advice for Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "One thing Scotty needs to do is just shut up,” Durant said. About the team's turnovers, that is. So far this postseason, Brooks' silence has been golden. According to guard Russell Westbrook, the Thunder was terrible at taking care of the ball when its coach harped on it during the regular season. But when Brooks piped down in the playoffs, Oklahoma City immediately enjoyed better ball security. Which explains why Durant playfully suggested for his coach to put a sock in it. “We'll probably be a better team,” Durant joked. Brooks is on board with his two All-Stars. “Usually, I don't agree with either of those guys much, but they're telling the truth. I haven't mentioned the turnovers at all,” Brooks said. “But I haven't mentioned it because we haven't turned it over. Trust me, if we're turning it over 25 times I'm on 'em and showing every clip and why we're turning it over because of bad spacing and so forth.” No need. Brooks hasn't had to play bad cop because the Thunder has had a turnover turnaround. After leading the league with 16.3 turnovers during the regular season, the Thunder now heads into the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio averaging a postseason-low 10.7 turnovers.