First Cup: Monday

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: LeBron James and Dwyane Wade watched on the locker room television, then burst out to greet their teammates. To use Erik Spoelstra’s phrase, they “tackled everyone.” And if it was possible, David Stern would have parachuted in to join them. Stern had looked foolish the last time, announcing “substantial sanctions” were forthcoming before the undermanned Spurs pressed the Heat. This time? The franchise that’s irritated Stern for more than a decade was hit with something more significant than a fine. Those who believe in the worst of the NBA office probably see signs of a conspiracy again. After all, Joey Crawford showed up, and when is the last time that’s been good for San Antonio? Then there was the call by another official, Jason Phillips, with 32 seconds left. The Miami version of Nando De Colo, Norris Cole, fell on a drive; Kawhi Leonard got the foul because he was the only one nearby. “We got some lucky breaks at the end,” Spoelstra said, and he followed with something as true. “But that’s basketball.” One call didn’t determine this game, not when the Heat played with the kind of competitive joy the Spurs had in November in Miami. Chris Bosh used the word “fun,” because it was for them. Just as the Spurs played loose in Miami, so did the Heat Sunday. … With the Thunder waiting for the second game of a back-to-back in OKC on Thursday, will this be the week that scrambles the Western Conference seeding? Stern wouldn’t mind, since he’s butted heads with the Spurs for years. And while he pushed for an economic model that allowed small markets to compete, he always preferred selling something other than a Spurs franchise that has never moved the television needle. And so there Stern was Sunday, with his final postseason as the NBA commissioner approaching, watching Bosh line up the game-winner.

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: Could the Heat center imagine playing at such a level at age 37? “I don’t know if I’ll still be playing,” said Chris Bosh, who recently turned 29. “I don’t want to, no. I will if I have to. You can’t tell the future, but I don’t plan to.” If the rest of his career is anywhere near as enjoyable as Sunday night’s 88-86 victory, you’d think he could be convinced to reconsider. With LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Mario Chalmers all sitting — due to what Miami coach Erik Spoelstra characterized as nagging injuries but what many suspected was payback for San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich’s ploy in November — Bosh had a rare opportunity to anchor the Heat, and to do so against the Spurs, the West’s best squad. And so there he was, with the Heat down one. There he was, after Spoelstra trusted his team to push the ball without a timeout. There he was, standing open after a screen, 25 feet from the basket, just past the top of the key, after Tiago Splitter failed to switch and three defenders flailed toward Ray Allen. “I saw myself shooting that,” Allen said. “I was about to shoot it, and I felt my guy come up on me, and hey, there’s somebody open, and I found him.” He found Bosh, who had 20 points at that stage, including a couple of 3-pointers. “Fairly decent look,” Spoelstra said. Bosh wasn’t surprised to be that free. “I had to make the shot still,” he said, laughing.

  • Harvey Araton of The New York Times: One championship, two finals appearances, and countless clutch shots and defensive stands later, Pierce, at 35, is considered one of the league’s sage big-game veterans, a future Retired Number Celtic, a nearly certain Hall of Famer. His delayed ascension might also reflect the best-case career trajectory for the Knicks’Carmelo Anthony, whose professional years have mimicked Pierce’s 20s far more than they have LeBron James’s. With the Knicks poised to displace the Celtics as Atlantic Division champions after beating them, 108-89, on Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, this would be a propitious time to present Pierce as Exhibit A in the case for Anthony’s potential growth into no-questions-asked superstardom. Anthony’s critics, including me, have never underestimated his combustible package of size, strength and first-step speed. But his teams in Denver and in New York have produced poor playoff results, and he has admitted to failing to fully grasp the essence of collective elegance until last summer’s Olympics. Isn’t it fair to say that when it comes to winning at the highest level, Anthony is still an undergraduate student trying to complete a master’s program?

  • Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe: As one of three NBA coaches on the league’s competition committee, Rivers, who is joined by Dallas’s Rick Carlisle and Memphis’s Lionel Hollins, is asked to vote on potential rule changes and other competition-related matters. One issue Rivers said he expects to come up this offseason is the idea of coaches sitting star players in games, which Miami did Sunday night against San Antonio. The Heat sat LeBron James, Dywane Wade, and Mario Chalmers against the Spurs, indicating that each had injuries such as a hamstring strain and a sprained ankle. The move caused a stir because Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had sent forward Tim Duncan, guard Manu Ginobili, and guard Tony Parker home before playing the Heat Nov. 19. … “I’ve got a feeling it will come up, probably loudly,” Rivers said. “But I don’t know what you’re supposed to do about it as a coach. It’s a tough one, honestly. From the fans’ standpoint, they pay to see the players play and I get that. From the league’s standpoint, they want to protect that. From a coaching standpoint, you want to do what’s best for your team. It’s a tough one.” However, the Celtics may have an advantage in this area because their star players are pushing 35 and above, so no one really questions why they sit: they’re just old. “I think ‘old’ is an actual injury,” Rivers joked. “You have the ‘hamstring injury’ and you have the ‘old injury.’ ”

  • Craig Stouffer of the Washington Examiner: With a 109-92 victory over Toronto before 14,360 at Verizon Center, the Wizards (27-46) achieved their objective and saw shades of what their starting backcourt hopes to be next year. Bradley Beal matched a career-high with six 3-pointers and a game-high 24 points after missing 11 of the last 14 games with a sprained left ankle. His return was the perfect complement to John Wall's 18 points and 10 assists with a single turnover, the bookend to a superb March played mostly without his rookie teammate. "It's very important, especially to me and especially to the team, because we want to end on a good note, make a run for the ninth seed," Beal said. … Beal checked in with 4:37 remaining the first quarter. His 3-pointer over 6-foot-11 Jonas Valanciunas (18 points, 10 rebounds) broke a 33-33 tie early in the second, starting a stretch in which the Wizards outscored the Raptors by 10 over the final eight minutes of the half. "I think we've seen it in his attitude," Wizards coach Randy Wittman said of Beal. "He's been working, and he wants to get back. That's a good sign. ... I've been in it long enough where I've seen guys say they don't want to get back."

  • Cathal Kelly of the Toronto Star: The vogue trend in the league is to shoot three-pointers at every opportunity. On that basis, Gay is a victim of fashion. His three-point shooting is middling overall (33.9 per cent career), and trending like an anvil tipped into a well (26.7 per cent this year). Gay missed his shot. Toronto missed its chance. All the momentum drained away then. It finished 109-92. “You don’t want to question a guy’s decision, but we’d much rather go to the basket,” coach Dwane Casey said. “He made that choice.” Bad choices, large and small, haunt this team. It was a wrong choice to come out looking like they needed a little nap after the excitement of the anthems. ‘We came out with a lax disposition,” Casey said flatly. “(Casey) said that to us also,” Kyle Lowry said afterward, as if relieved to hear that he wasn’t the only one. It was a wrong choice to get into early foul trouble.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: New Orleans Hornets guard Greivis Vasquez said Coach Monty Williams called him out in front of his teammates during halftime for not playing like a leader after committing three turnovers and scoring five points. But Vasquez used it as motivation, dominating the third quarter by making all six shots, distributing three assists and most importantly not committing a turnover for the entire second half on his way to a team-high 25 points. Vasquez not only looked for his shot, but he got the Hornets in their offensive sets quicker and looked specifically for forward Anthony Davis on lob passes coming off pick-and-roll plays. Vasquez and Davis combined to score 29 of the Hornets' 36 points in the third quarter. It was enough for the Hornets to end a two-game losing streak and finish their seven-game homestand at 4-3.

  • Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon-Journal: Kyrie Irving’s return from a sprained left shoulder Sunday provided Shaun Livingston with a welcome break. Livingston is able to return to his reserve role after averaging 32 minutes in the eight games he started. Livingston played well in Irving’s absence, but he now strengthens a bench that has been depleted by the injuries to the starters. “It keeps the second unit a little more intact and it cuts down his minutes, which I think is important,” coach Byron Scott said. “I thought he was running on fumes for a little while because of all the minutes we’ve been playing him. He gets more of a break and can resume his normal position and normal playing time. That definitely helps.”

  • Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune: The NBA's decision to upgrade a Gibson foul onLeBron James from a regular shooting foul to a flagrant foul surprised Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. "I guess we have to call the league and get clarification on that," he said. "I didn't see it that way. I still don't have a good understanding of what a flagrant foul is. By rule it's unnecessary, excessive. I thought I got some clarity last year, but apparently I didn't." James complained after Wednesday's game of fouls he deemed "not basketball plays." Asked if James' opinion carries weight with the league, Thibodeau replied: "I guess we have to talk to the league to find out."

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: When a team shoots 50 percent on the road and holds its opponent under 40 percent, it expects to win. But when these two meet, no one stat can guarantee victory for the Pistons. They had a chance to send the game to overtime, trailing by three with 22 seconds left, but Charlie Villanueva's 3-point attempt didn't find its mark. Jose Calderon would've been a candidate to take a tying 3-pointer, but he has a tendon problem in his elbow and when the ball swung to him, he was no threat to shoot, so Villanueva launched a long jumper in a failed attempt to send the game to overtime. Rodney Stuckey hit a 3-pointer on the final possession to cut the lead from four to one. The Pistons (24-50) were already undermanned without Jason Maxiell (eye injury, didn't make the trip) and Will Bynum (hand). The Bulls (40-32) were playing without Joakim Noah, Marco Belinelli, former Piston Richard Hamilton and 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, who's yet to return from tearing his Achilles. Even without those four, especially the pesky Noah, the Bulls made the necessary plays down the stretch to give the Pistons that sinking feeling. "It was some bad bounces, I had a bad turnover," said Greg Monroe, who finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, benefitting from Noah's absence. "Just a half-second late, that might've been the difference. We played with good energy, good effort the whole game. When it counted, we were a step late."