First Cup: Wednesday

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: One cheap shot can change everything. The mojo in this NBA playoff series turned decidedly back in the favor of the Nuggets when Golden State center Andrew Bogut turned into a coward and went for the throat of Kenneth Faried. Any guise of good sportsmanship is gone. This is a brawl. Oh, it's on now. Golden State coach Mark Jackson accused the Nuggets of being "hit men." Faried countered by alleging Bogut has repeatedly hit him in the throat. Denver did more than beat Golden State 107-100 on Tuesday night to stave off an unwanted start to summer vacation. When Bogut lost his head, taking a cheap shot at Faried, it was the first sign Denver had wormed its way into the heads of the Warriors. "He just hit me, and I was shocked," Faried said. "But I was happy about it." Bogut cracked. And there is a crack in the door for the Nuggets to beat the odds, show Golden State who's boss and make an unlikely comeback from a 3-1 deficit to win the opening-round series. … Thanks to Bogut, they look like wannabe thugs. After a loss in Game 4 at Golden State, Faried was so frustrated he kicked a hole in the locker room wall. "They can bill me," Faried said. He'll be back, for Game 6, with the pressure on Golden State. This time, Faried and the Nuggets are looking to kick tail. The mind-set the Nuggets will take into this fight? "We ain't leaving here," Faried said, "until we've won."

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: Stephen Curry had a cold, cold look in is eyes for the last half of Game 5 on Tuesday, and he still had it in the locker room later. He looked outraged after the Warriors' 107-100 loss to Denver. He looked bruised. Really, he looked like he was plotting vengeance. And most of all, Curry looked like he wanted to play Game 6 right here, right now instead of having to wait until Thursday at Oracle Arena. … It’s not happy-fun, it's edgy NBA playoff-fun, where the longer a series goes, the more the passion and dislike boils over into something like an alley fight. And where there are on-court taunts and messages sent, including, according to Warriors sources, Nuggets players repeatedly telling Curry that he was a soft player. The Warriors still lead this series 3-2, and now they are angry, too. … Though the Warriors were clearly outplayed in this game, which denied them their first shot at clinching this series, their locker room was feeling good about the late comeback and the home game Thursday. And mostly, they were fuming about the hits Curry took from the first minutes of this game. "They tried to send hit men (at Curry)," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. The general point: The Nuggets delivered most of the hits--legal or not--and the Warriors failed because they didn't recover until the fourth quarter, when it was too late. The implied point: The Warriors are planning to hit first, second, third and 100th on Thursday.

  • Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: It's tough to win a playoff game going one on five. The Clippers gamely tried Tuesday at Staples Center, but not even the sustained brilliance of Chris Paul was enough on a night he nearly doubled the output of his fellow starters with 35 points. The Memphis Grizzlies didn't deliver a powerful jab during a 103-93 victory in Game 5 of their Western Conference first-round series as much as what seemed like a knockout blow, taking a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Now that the series has started, to use that expression about the road team breaking through for a playoff victory, it's pretty much over for the Clippers. They have lost three consecutive games, and as tempting it is to use Blake Griffin's sprained ankle as an excuse or tout the Clippers' recent success at FedEx Forum, where they won twice in the playoffs last season and twice during the recently completed regular season, well, forget it. If Tuesday's no-show is any indication of the way the Clippers intend to play at a time when they need contributions from everybody, then they might as well call it a season instead of taking the flight to Memphis for Game 6 on Friday. That could be the end of the Vinny Del Negro era and these Clippers as we know them.

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: Just the other day Blake Griffin was talking about how different these playoffs are compared to last year - the key being no longer having to drag an injured leg up and down the court. If Griffin didn't believe in the power of the jinx then, he might now. All it took was jumping innocently Monday during practice and then planting his right foot onto the foot of a teammate upon landing. The result being a sprained ankle so severe that if this was the regular season his absence might be measured in weeks, not hours. Not to mention a first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies that just got turned on its head. Griffin gutted it out Tuesday in Game 5, but gone was all the explosiveness that makes him one of the most gifted forwards in the game. He was limited, and it showed. And that left the Clippers stuck in first gear in a game they absolutely had to have to hold onto any sort of control of this series. … The problem is, ankle sprains don't just go away in a day or two, leaving the Clippers vulnerable the rest of the series. They have a training staff players continually praise for getting them ready to play, regardless of the situation - but they'll be put to the test between now and Friday's Game 6 to get Griffin's ankle to a point it can carry him through another game. The question is, will he be the decoy he was Tuesday or someone capable of actually contributing? And can he give them more than the three quarters he played in Game 5? Nothing less than the Clippers' season hangs in the balance.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: What took so long? The Hawks vaulted back into their first-round playoff series against the Pacers by starting a bigger lineup that resulted in convincing home victories in Games 3 and 4. The greatest of the many benefits of the move has been the matchup of Josh Smith on Paul George. It has been a clear victory for the Hawks that has the best-of-seven series tied 2-2 and headed back to Indiana for Game 5 on Wednesday night. Smith has stifled George on defense. The Pacers’ All-Star small forward averaged 25.0 points, 9.5 rebounds and 7.5 assists in Games 1 and 2. However, he averaged 18.5 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists in Games 3 and 4. He had only three points at halftime in Game 4 on Monday when the Hawks built what was an insurmountable lead. He has not been the facilitator he was who made the Pacers’ offense so effective in the first two games. Smith also has prevented the Pacers from getting the ball to George in favorable places on the floor. The lineup change also meant that George had to guard Smith. It’s another battle won by the Hawks.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: It’s something nobody thought would happen at any point of the season, especially in the playoffs. Indiana Pacers power forward David West hasn’t had an impact in the series against the Atlanta Hawks. Not West, the backbone of the Pacers. Not West, the team’s most consistent player the past two seasons. Not West, the veteran savvy player who has managed to overcome his shortcomings in speed and athleticism to often end up schooling players at his position. Yes, that West. West continued to be unnoticeable Monday when the Hawks evened the series with the Pacers via their 102-91 victory at Philips Arena. … “I have to figure out a way to be more effective in this series,” West said. “I feel like I have an advantage at times, but we have to be able to catch a good rhythm in these games.” West is right: It’s time for him to get out of his funk. The Pacers need him. No offense to Paul George and the rest of the team, but they won’t win this series without West getting back to being the David West of the regular season.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: After missing the game's most important shot Monday night at Houston, a stick-back attempt from point-blank range, Ibaka whipped his head back, and then his body, and then crumpled to the court. As he remained on his backside, Ibaka put both arms over his head. He couldn't believe what he had just done. He had just cost the Thunder the closeout game at Houston. “It was tough. It was tough,” Ibaka said Tuesday, a day later. “I wanted to try to save my team, and it didn't happen. It was tough for me.” On the list of Thunder players who didn't deserve to deal with that amount of agony, Ibaka ranked a close second to Kevin Durant. … “It was my first time to be in that position, you know?” Ibaka tried to explain. He continued. “I didn't sleep last night, man.” … Ibaka insists he'll learn from it. “The good thing about it is we have one more game (Wednesday),” Ibaka said. “Like I said, for me, that was my first time to be in that position. It didn't happen, so now I know how it feels and I'm going to move on.”

  • David Barron of the Houston Chronicle: Patrick Beverley has endured summers in Chicago and winters in Russia, so there isn’t much chance he’s going to get emotionally distraught over another night in Oklahoma City. And even if Beverley were prone to get his feelings hurt when people hurl abuse his way, he can consult one of the NBA’s reigning experts on the fine art of being a visiting team villain. “In the famous words of Bill Walton, if they’re cheering you in the opponent’s gym, you’re doing something wrong,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale, a veteran of the Lakers-Celtics brouhahas of the 1980s. “I don’t think they’re cheering (Beverley), so he must be doing something right.” Wednesday night’s Game 5 will be the Rockets’ first game at Oklahoma City since the Game 2 incident in which Thunder guard Russell Westbook suffered a knee injury when he appeared to be trying to call a timeout and Beverley moved in for an attempted steal. Westbrook required season-ending surgery, and Beverley received all manner of Internet abuse from Thunder fans, including a couple of death threats from a Twitter account linked to an Oklahoma City ball boy.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Kevin Garnett will take the Madison Square Garden floor this evening to participate in his 1,453rd NBA game. He insists that he hasn’t considered there may not be a 1,454th. If the Celtics do not defeat the New York Knicks tonight, their season will be over — a 4-1 Eastern Conference quarterfinals exit. One of the first questions that will follow is whether Garnett’s career, too, will be at an end. But the Big Ticket doesn’t want to consider the fact he may be punching his ticket to retirement. Such thoughts can only get in the way. So when he sat his 6-foot-11 frame down at the C’s practice facility yesterday, his vision was sharply tunneled. He seems to play most every game as if it could be his last. But would this one be any different because it could be, you know, the last? “Not really. Game 7’s an all-out,” said Garnett, echoing a team theme that every game now is a Game 7, even though tonight’s is, indeed, Game 5. “That’s just what they are, the last opportunity to survive. Your mentality can’t be anything different.” … So if he did spend yesterday morning wondering what Thanksgiving on a beach would feel like, he wasn’t sharing that later. And he didn’t want to ante up for any hypothetical poker.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: J.R. Smith will rejoin the rotation Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, and in all likelihood, the Knicks will close out the series. No N.B.A. team has come back from a 3-0 deficit, and the Celtics will probably not be the first. The Knicks have not lost a home game since March 7. The elbow, the suspension and the loss may ultimately become a footnote to an otherwise glorious season. But if the Knicks stumble in Game 5? If Tyson Chandler’s neck flares up? If Raymond Felton’s ankle turns? If Carmelo Anthony goes 10 for 35 again? Sometimes, it takes just a single sprain, one unlucky bounce or a shooting slump to turn a series around. The smart teams know this, and they act accordingly, treating each game as vital. Whether this series ends in five games, six or seven, the Knicks will have cost themselves vital recovery time — even more crucial for a team relying on so many older veterans. They need to preserve Jason Kidd’s 40-year-old legs and Kenyon Martin’s surgically repaired knees for the challenges ahead, and the expected showdown with the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.