First Cup: Monday

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: When Stephen Curry is officially anointed the greatest shooter of all time, they will talk about this game, and they won't have to say much else. When and if the Warriors finish off Denver in this series, they will point to the final 4 minutes, 22 seconds of the third quarter Sunday night, and it will all be explained. When thousands of Oracle Arena fans suffer from partial hearing loss for days and weeks, maybe years ... well, they will know what happened. Curry happened, like a thunder clap, over and over and over again. Was this the birth of a superstar? "Those guys are just coming to the hospital," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said of newcomers to the Curry-is-a-Superstar Bandwagon. "The baby has been born already. "We've been watching it all year long. He's put this team on his back. ... Here's where you recognize where the great players are." And from that, there might be no turning back. The practical result is that Curry's magical 22-point third quarter -- and 19-point storm in the final 4:22 -- pushed the Warriors to a 115-101 victory in Game 4 of this first-round series. "I was feeling a little warmer, bodywise, in the third quarter, just get a rhythm," Curry said after his ankle pain led to a sluggish first half. "The goal kind of looked a little bigger."

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Nuggets swingman Andre Iguodala is paid a salary of $15 million, give or take the retail price of a yacht. But, right now, you can bet Iguodala would invest heavily to buy a clutch basket, a vowel or the star quality of Golden State guard Stephen Curry. Behind 31 points from Curry, the Warriors ran Denver out of the gym Sunday night with a 115-101 victory. After winning 57 games during the regular season, the Nuggets have picked a lousy time to suffer a three-game losing streak against the Western Conference's No. 6 seed. Here is Nuggets coach George Karl, with all the analysis you need from this series: "They're probably twice as good as shooters as we are." Curry is a bona fide NBA star. And Iguodala is not. With his team now a single game from elimination in the opening round of the playoffs, it appears Karl could become the most sheepish, miserable winner of the league's coach of the year award. … Here is what is sad. Iguodala's solid reputation is built on defense. Yet there is nothing Iguodala or anybody else on the Nuggets' roster can do to stop Curry, even when he's at less than full strength. Unless your name is Bill Russell or Dennis Rodman, the notion that defense wins championships in the NBA is largely a myth. This league is built around big shots who hit the big shot.

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: These Lakers were closer to the Sacramento Kings. But the Spurs convinced themselves of something else entirely. They took Popovich’s appropriate-fear message to another level; it was a self-created, alternate-reality fear. Baynes’ surprising start might have helped, since he wasn’t about to overlook a thing. But the energy that went through the Spurs was deeper than this. When Parker wasn’t spinning toward the basket, DeJuan Blair was moving his feet and muscling the Lakers’ big men. Afterward, a reporter reminded Tim Duncan of his long history with the Lakers. Without Bryant in uniform, did this feel like a chapter in that book? “You know what,” Duncan began, “it’s hard to answer that question.” Then, he answered it. Firmly. “I’m playing here and now to get to the next round. I’m not worried about the history of whatever, and the series of whatever. We were here to beat the team that was in front of us to move on. And however you want to put it in the book and put it in whatever chapter, we won this series, and we’re moving on, and we’re happy about that.” They should be beyond happy. The Spurs turned this series into an extended practice. They found rhythm they had lost at the end of the regular season, giving Tiago Splitter and Boris Diaw maybe a week to get healthy, and this will help everyone from Mr. Pop to Baynes. For when the real playoffs begin.

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: Superman took a powder. A cornerstone crumbled. The dude just left early. "This is like a nightmare," said Howard later. "This is like a bad dream and I couldn't wake up out of it." Here's how that nightmare can end. The Lakers don't re-sign it. The Lakers walk out on Dwight Howard the way he walked out on them. The Lakers shake themselves awake after watching Howard's pathetic performance Sunday and have the courage to move forward without him. Interestingly, just as the Lakers' phony glitter disappeared, their strongest fabric arrived. Moments after Howard's ejection, with the team trailing by 21 points, yeah, you guessed it, Kobe Bryant showed up. Making his first public appearance since tearing his Achilles' tendon just over two weeks ago, Bryant hobbled out to the chair behind the bench. The crowd stood and roared for the first time all afternoon. Bryant sat there the rest of the game, cheering and coaching. This franchise may be a mess, but it's still Hollywood's mess. … Even with Howard, they would be mediocre next season, so why not play without him while waiting for the contractual freedom in the summer of 2014 that could put them back in the championship race. Granted, once Bryant retires, the Lakers will never again be led by such a great closer. But you'd think they'll eventually be able to find someone actually willing to finish.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Here’s how you close out a series: 17 points in a four-minute stretch during the fourth quarter, including four three-pointers and a three-point play by LeBron James. Then, for good measure, a raucous dunk by James to cap it all off. James’ powerful, emphatic basket with 2:41 left in the fourth quarter gave the Heat a 16-point lead, sent Dwyane Wade out of his chair in celebration and sent the Heat into the second-round of the playoffs with a four-game sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks. The Heat defeated the Bucks 88-77 to close out the series. It all seemed almost too easy. The Heat held the Bucks to 85.3 points per game, and for many of the players, including veterans such as Ray Allen, Mike Miller and Shane Battier, it was the first series sweep of their careers. “Sweeping is the toughest thing you ever do,” said Udonis Haslem, who had 13 points and five rebounds. “Teams’ lives are on the line, and they might understand that they might not come back and win the whole series, but guys want to get one because it’s a pride thing. Nobody wants to get swept.” It was the Heat’s first sweep since the 2005 playoffs when Haslem and Wade swept through the New Jersey Nets and then the Washington Wizards in the first two rounds of the playoffs before losing to the Pistons in seven. The Heat now must await the conclusion of the first-round series between Chicago and the Nets — the new Brooklyn Nets — before focusing on its next opponent. The first game of the second round can begin no sooner than Saturday.

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: Let’s play a Milwaukee Bucks edition of the game “Should he stay … or should he go?” After being swept from the playoffs Sunday by the reigning champion Miami Heat, most card-carrying members of Bucks Nation would like to see a thorough housecleaning of their favorite team, starting at the top with owner Herb Kohl to the bottom with the video coordinators. Can’t blame them, either. The Bucks had a most despicable season. From the beginning of training camp, when a disengaged Scott Skiles was coaching the team, to the middle of the season when they traded talented young forward Tobias Harris to Orlando for perhaps a rent-a-player in J.J. Redick to Sunday’s season-ending game, there has been non-stop turmoil surrounding the organization. You don’t have to possess telepathic powers to realize heads are going to roll. It’s just a question of how many of them. Rest assured, this offseason figures to be infinitely more intriguing and entertaining than this season. So, who should stay and who should go?

  • Mitch Lawrence of the New York Daily News: Maybe now J.R. Smith will think twice about swinging an elbow to clear out an opponent in the heat of a playoff battle. This was the best way for Smith to learn his lesson: The hard way, with the Knicks missing him dearly in their 97-90 overtime loss in Game 4 on Sunday at TD Garden. And how is this for justice? Jason Terry, the guy Smith sent to the parquet with his blatant elbow on Friday in Game 3, prompting the NBA to suspend the Sixth Man Award winner, outscored the Knicks by himself in the overtime session, 9-6, to keep the Celtics alive. With Smith, the Knicks are clearly superior to the wounded Celtics, a No. 7 seed trying to make do without Rajon Rondo in this first-round series.But without the 16 points that Smith has averaged in this series, the Knicks fell behind by 20 and didn’t have enough shot-makers to match Terry in overtime in losing for only the third time in their last 22 games. Smith will be back Wednesday for Game 5 at the Garden. “I don’t care if Patrick Ewing comes back for them,” Terry said. “We’re going to treat it like a Game 7.”

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: There was no question, if this was Jason Terry’s final appearance at TD Garden as a Celtic, if the team decides to include him in an expected slew of offseason moves, he was going to exit with brashness. So on the fast break in overtime Sunday against the New York Knicks, when he could have penetrated to the hoop for a layup or drawn a foul, Terry pulled up a foot behind the 3-point line, unleashing a long-range shot with supreme confidence. The result? Swish. Swishes have been rare this season for Terry, signed to a three-year deal to essentially replace Ray Allen. He has turned out to be a defensive liability and erratic shooter. Yet, when the Knicks were stopping the Celtics’ halfcourt offense like Patrick Roy circa 1993, the Terry of old stepped in, scoring the final 9 points as the Celtics lived at least one more game with a 97-90 win. … Sunday was vintage Terry, the one who peppered the Miami Heat with jumpers in the 2011 NBA Finals, the fireball who plays with fearlessness, not anxiety, who approaches the moment with vigor, not hesitancy. “He was great,” Rivers said.

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: When we speak of all the things Josh Smith can do, Saturday’s Game 3 is what we mean. On a night when losing would have equaled cetain elimination, he scored 14 points, took six rebounds, made six assists and limited Paul George, the star of Games 1 and 2, to four baskets. Smith wasn’t the statistical standout – Al Horford had 26 points and 16 rebounds – but he was surely the Hawks’ MVP. Sometimes it seems as if we’ve spoken of no other Hawk for almost a decade, but Game 3 offered yet another reason why the Josh Smith conversation remains ongoing. When he’s good, he’s really good. (And he has been really good rather often, or else we’d never have noticed him in the first place.) When he’s not, we ask why. Then we point to the 3-pointers and say, “That’s why.” If Smith had never discovered the 3-point shot, he’d be one of the most admired players in the sport. Mike Woodson had all but disabused him of the urge to launch; in his final season under his first professional coach, Smith tried only seven treys. In three seasons since succeeding Woodson, Larry Drew has allowed Smith to keep doing the thing he does worst, and that has undercut the greater effect. Think about it. Has there ever been a player of such skill and such seasoning about whom there remains such a kerfuffle over shot selection?

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: The Pacers, these Pacers, are not the stay-out-all-night, party-hearty, go-hard-or-go-home types. So why can’t the Indiana Pacers, losers of 12 straight games in Atlanta, beat this ordinary Hawks team on the road? Why can’t they come into Philips Arena, which is usually three-quarters filled with fans who’d rather be watching football, and take down a team that will be dismantled at season’s end? It’s understandable to lose 11 straight in San Antonio, as the Pacers have. It’s not understandable to lose 12 consecutive times in Atlanta, where the Hawks have been beacons of mediocrity over the years. … If the Pacers accomplished anything during their gruesome film session Sunday — Roy Hibbert called it “an airing of grievances” — it was reaching the conclusion that most of their problems were self-inflicted. While the Hawks were playing with abject desperation, the Pacers were just showing up. Asked his biggest disappointment after watching the game and then watching the tape, coach Frank Vogel didn’t hesitate. “Our offensive disposition,” he said.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Kevin Martin says he doesn't deal in pressure. Doesn't acknowledge its existence. Fair enough. Let's use a different term. Responsibility. It's Martin's responsibility, more so than any other Thunder, to patch the scoring hole left by the injured Russell Westbrook. … Martin has not had a good series against the Rockets. Three games, 11-of-35 shooting, 38 total points. But we should have seen it coming. Martin arrived in the famous James Harden trade on Oct. 27 and was effective immediately. In 17 November games, Martin averaged 15.9 points. But his scoring has gone down every month, and the Thunder's reliance on Martin has gone down, too. In November games, Martin averaged 14.1 usages, which are possessions ended by a particular player, either by shot, foul shot or turnover. By March, that average was down to 12.2 and in April, 10.8. … Scotty Brooks, who has been preaching that no one can replace Westbrook's production, admitted he needs more out of Martin and even offered strategy that could help. “He scores better when he's moving,” Brooks said. “We gotta keep moving him.” If Martin can't be more productive with Westbrook gone, Martin will be moving, all right. Moving on.

  • David Barron of the Houston Chronicle: With the Rockets’ playoff fate against the Oklahoma City Thunder hanging by a thread, coach Kevin McHale’s most important Game 4 decision might be whether he’s better off with a limited Jeremy Lin or a healthier but older combination of Francisco Garcia, Carlos Delfino and Aaron Brooks. Lin, who scored two points and was limited to 18½ minutes Saturday night by the chest bruise he suffered in Game 2, underwent therapy and ran on the treadmill Sunday while his teammates had a brief shootaround after watching film from Oklahoma City’s 104-101 win in Game 3. The Thunder lead the series 3-0, and no NBA team has come back from three down to win a best-of-seven playoff series. Garcia (18 points), Delfino (11 points) and Brooks (four points in nine minutes) in concert with Patrick Beverley had encouraging moments in Lin’s absence in Game 3, and McHale must decide how much Lin can contribute to that rotation Monday at Toyota Center. “That’s a big decision for us,” McHale said. “He couldn’t do a lot of stuff (in Game 3). We’re going to have to wait and see. It doesn’t do any good for him to play if he can’t help us. We’ll see.”

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Considering what the Bulls did to the Nets in their Game 4 come-from-behind victory in triple-overtime Saturday, there’s no need for such comments to be off the record. The players know that when it comes down to heart, toughness, will and playing team basketball when it matters most, the Nets just aren’t in the same class. “From my perspective, I think so,’’ Bulls power forward Taj Gibson said, when asked if the Bulls are just a tougher team than the Nets. “I mean, we had a lot of injuries this year. For the last three years we’ve had a lot of injuries, and we’ve always been able to overcome the injuries. We have guys that can step up on any given night and play 48 [minutes], play whatever is needed. That’s the difference. We have guys that are ready to step into that moment, and it shows.’’ “That moment’’ the Nets needed guys? Missing in action. It started with C.J. Watson missing a dunk with 3:16 left in the fourth quarter, which would have put the Nets ahead by 16. Before that miss, Brooklyn had been shooting 60.6 percent from the field. After that dunk? The Nets did what they seem to do best: They shrunk.

  • Roderick Boone of Newsday: Rather than rewinding all the footage of their epic fourth-quarter collapse in Saturday's triple-overtime loss to the Bulls, the Nets probably felt better off simply burying it in the backyard like an old soup bone. "We won't watch the last three minutes and say, 'Look, we missed this free throw, we turned the ball over, we did A, B, C and D,' " interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said Sunday. "I think they are very acutely aware of the mistakes that we made and I don't think we need that for tomorrow." Beaten up mentally and physically after being on the wrong side of what many see as an instant classic, the Nets are forced to pick up the pieces quickly heading into Game 5 of their first-round matchup with Chicago at Barclays Center Monday night. They're trailing 3-1 in the series, and there's no time to dwell on how they never could seal the deal Saturday despite appearing to seize control of the game in the fourth quarter. No time to lament their slew of mistakes. They're on the brink of calling in for early tee times in a couple of days if they can't find a way to upend the Bulls and help erase those nightmarish memories of 48 hours earlier. "Disappointment is probably not strong enough, but an extremely tough way to lose," Carlesimo said. "But when it's all said and done, that's what it was. It's a loss, and having a day in between is good. We have to move away from the disappointment and channel it.”