First Cup: Wednesday

  • Frank Dell'Apa and Marc J. Spears of The Boston Globe: "Rajon Rondo said he was going for the ball on the last significant sequence of the Celtics' 106-104 overtime win over Chicago last night. And the officials agreed, awarding Bulls center Brad Miller two foul shots with two seconds to go in OT. 'I was going for the ball," said Rondo, "but Miller, I don't know, he's probably 290 [pounds], maybe more than that. I'm a little guy, so I had to go for the foul hard. I wasn't trying to take a guy out or hit his head. But I think he took it up in his right hand and I tried to make sure he couldn't finish. I may have hit him in the head, but I went through his arm first, trying to get to the ball and make sure he couldn't get a 2-point shot up. I'm not a dirty player, I'm just coming out there and trying to give him a hard foul, nothing flagrant.' Celtic coach Doc Rivers agreed: 'It was a great foul by Rondo. You always talk about playoff basketball, no layups. Rondo did it on the very last play and it won the game for us.' But Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro disagreed: 'You have to go for the basketball and he didn't come near the basketball, he hit the face. I thought it was a flagrant. I agree it's a playoff foul, but it's still a flagrant and you have to call it.'"

  • Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune: "Brad Miller got fouled flagrantly. It was an obvious play. It was an obvious choke by the officials. The Bulls should've had Miller go to the free-throw line, his team down two with two seconds left in overtime in Game 5 on Tuesday. Miller should've gotten his shots and the Bulls should've gotten the ball out of bounds after Rajon Rondo raked Miller's face and gave him a fat lip. But no. It was simply a two-shot personal foul. It probably would've been called a flagrant foul if this game was in Chicago, or if the Bulls were the defending champions. It wasn't, they aren't, and Miller missed the first shot. Now he had to miss the second. He did. He missed everything, which is an automatic change of possession. Ballgame. But forget about that. Remember instead that the Bulls blew an 11-point lead in the fourth quarter. You can scream about a game that came down to the officials, but a winning team doesn't let it come down to that. A winning team takes no chances. A winning team determines its own fate, especially when you know the officiating has been horrible."

  • Joe Freeman of The Oregonian: "One of the defining moments of Tuesday night's make-or-break playoff game against the Houston Rockets came hours before tipoff in a quiet gym in Tualatin. During the Trail Blazers' morning shootaround at their practice facility, coach Nate McMillan pulled reserve forward Rudy Fernandez aside and revealed a change in the team's game plan that would place a bigger role on the rookie from Spain heading into Game 5. 'He said you're going to play more minutes and we need you to be more aggressive,' Fernandez said. 'And I said I'm ready.' Fernandez got a boost in playing time, the Blazers got a season-rescuing 88-77 victory and Rip City got a peek at what could be the starting lineup for the rest of the playoffs. McMillan said before Tuesday's Game 5 that he planned to make Fernandez the first substitute off the bench. But he one-upped the move in the second half, sitting starting forward Nicolas Batum in favor of Fernandez. A scan of the box score will not reveal anything special -- Fernandez made 2 of 7 field goals and finished with seven points -- but his three-making ability and superior offensive threat made all the difference for the Blazers. It opened up offensive lanes for Brandon Roy, cleared space for LaMarcus Aldridge in the key and spaced out a Blazers' offense that had been struggling."

  • Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: " It was there to be won, begging to be won. It's a loss that stings a little more for that reason. On a night of fatigue and carelessness, on a night when the Rockets really had no business getting close, they still had a chance. That's the amazing part of this evening that ended with Portland winning Game 5 of this best-of-seven first-round series 88-77. 'Now it's a fight,' Luis Scola said. That's the part that will linger in the hearts and minds. If this series gets away from the Rockets, if this one ends up like all those others, it's Tuesday's game they might remember more than the others. The Rockets are still in control. That's the thing they need to be reminded of. It's just that they're less in control that they had been. They've still got two chances to clinch, but their real opportunity will be in Game 6 Thursday night at Toyota Center. All things considered, it's one of the five or six most important games the Rockets have played the last decade."

  • Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "If you believe that the NBA and its network television partners, as commissioner David Stern likes to call them, would prefer to see man-child Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic advance in the league playoffs, there was some ammunition for that paranoia last night. I mean, really, does the league want to see a team that needs to play Theo Ratliff for 20 minutes clogging up the TV schedule in May? Howard, the 6-foot-11 Orlando center, made a strong case for more prime-time exposure as he dominated the court to the tune of 24 points and 24 rebounds in the 91-78 Magic win that gives Orlando a choke hold on the first-round series. Sixers coach Tony DiLeo complimented Howard's play, but wondered whether he wasn't getting a little too much help in compiling his numbers. 'He lives in the three-second lane on offense and defense. It's tough to defend him or get to the hole when he's just standing in the three-second lane all the time,' DiLeo said. 'He's a great player. He doesn't need any advantages.'"

  • David Whitley of the Orlando Sentinel: "Philadelphia Coach Tony DiLeo devoted much of his postgame commentary to Howard. In summation, he called him a great player who was helped greatly by the officials. 'He just lives in the three-second lane,' DiLeo said. Stan Van Gundy was within earshot, took the stage after DiLeo and wasted no time with a retort. 'Am I supposed to lobby for calls I want next game?' he said. 'Is that what it's all about?' Buckle up, kids, this could get fun. Fun, of course, is Howard's unofficial middle name. Tuesday's performance might elbow that reputation into oblivion."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "It will go down in the history books as an upset, the No. 6 seed beating the No. 3 seed. But if the Mavericks have anything to say about it before they are done, their playoff take-down of the San Antonio Spurs will be remembered as the first step in a longer journey. 'We're not finished yet,' Jason Terry said. That feeling wafted through a feel-g
    ood, but not overly jubilant, Mavericks' locker room after they punished the Spurs, 106-93, at AT&T Center to win the first-round playoff series, 4-1. The Mavericks finished off the four-time champions over the last decade with the first dominant performance in the series by Dirk Nowitzki (31 points, nine rebounds) and a lot of help from his friends."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "With both Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, their injuries might be a forecast of what is to come. Doctors think Ginobili's stress fracture will clear up completely. But Duncan's knee -- the same one that was cut in 2000 -- is chronic. How much will it reduce his effectiveness next season, too? Tuesday, on his way to 30 points, there were signs he can still play. Duncan will need more help next season, especially during the regular season when his minutes need to be reduced. The Spurs won't have many options, since most of this team is signed and coming back. But, again, in 2000, the Spurs faced similar limitations. They recovered by finding one bargain, a free-agent scorer named Derek Anderson. He would only last a season, and Tony Parker would arrive the next year. But with a piece in place, the Spurs went back to the Western Conference finals the next season. Maybe Rasheed Wallace is that now, or maybe it's someone else. Either way, it's possible, because this was a 54-win team, and it limped to the finish. And it could heal."

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "It's Game 5 of the NBA playoffs, and we're still waiting for Joe Johnson to step up. The degree of his greatness remains up for debate. The Hawks are even in their series with Miami at two wins apiece despite Johnson, not because of him. They've received great games from Josh Smith and Zaza Pachulia and solid play from Mike Bibby. But their captain and expected leading scorer has been relatively pedestrian. Johnson is averaging 13.8 points. He has made only 37.9 percent of his field-goal attempts. He is 2-for-9 from 3-point range and 9-for-17 from the free-throw line. His assist-to-turnover ratio: so tilted the wrong way (10-to-15). This is not what stars do. Not in the playoffs. Not even in November.

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "For Carmelo Anthony, if the Nuggets win Wednesday night, it will be his first series win. Ever. You can almost cut the excitement in the air with a knife when he talks about it. A win stops the can't-get-out-of-the-first-round criticism, which in his view has arguably been the most biting of all the things his detractors have said about him. Forty-eight minutes. 'Yeah, I'm excited. I'm excited man,' Anthony said. 'I don't want to get too excited. Good thing is we stole one here on the road and get a chance to go home in front of our crowd and close it out.'

  • Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune: "However it affects his decisions as a restricted free agent, Paul Millsap admitted Tuesday that he struggled with having to come off the bench after Carlos Boozer 's return from knee surgery. 'I want to say it wasn't difficult,' Millsap said, 'but at times, never knowing what was going to happen kind of weighs on you, never knowing really how many minutes you're going to play, when you're going to go into the game, when you're going to come out."' Whether he winds up as a starter or a reserve next season, Millsap said he was "going to continue to be humble and accept my role." Millsap is in line for a significant raise from the $797,581 he made this season, though the Jazz can match any offer from another team. 'I'll fit in anywhere, seeing how hard I work and what I bring to the table,' Millsap said. 'I feel like if I go wherever I go, I'm going to give it my all.'"

  • Doug Robinson of the Deseret News: "You know what Carlos Boozer needs almost as much as a new set of hamstrings? A personal PR man. And I'm volunteering for the job. Let's face it, this man needs a PR makeover. Not since Greg Ostertag has any player polarized Jazz fans this much, and not entirely because of the way he plays the game. So where do you stand on Carlos Boozer? Are you in the Boozer Must Go camp? Or the Boozer Must Stay Camp? The Jazz say they're in the latter camp, but it's not that simple. They want to keep the Jazz family together, but it will cost about $71 million just to retain the core group, which puts them in luxury-tax territory -- and that doesn't even count money they must spend to retain rising Paul Millsap, who deserves a huge raise if not Boozer's job. And you thought your family was expensive."

  • Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal: "The fact is, no NBA fans have been as starved for meaningful playoff basketball as Memphis fans. Not Sacramento fans, not Minnesota fans, not Clipper fans, not any fans. On April 14, 2001, the Grizzlies played their final game in Vancouver. Since that date, care to guess how many other NBA franchises that have been around for the entire stretch have failed to win a playoff game? It's a small number. Zippo. That's right, zippo. The Charlotte Bobcats haven't won a playoff game but they didn't enter the league until 2004. The other 28 NBA teams have all won a playoff game since the Grizzlies played their final game in Vancouver. Heck, every other team that missed the playoffs in the West this year has won a playoff series in the past eight seasons. Which isn't just a variation on the Grizzlies-are-terrible story y'all are sick of reading, either. It's a good part of the explanation for the team's utter failure to connect in this city."

  • Chris McCosky of The Detroit News: "It's time for Antonio McDyess to be loyal to himself. He is going to be a hot-ticket free agent this summer and easily will make the $8 million he left on the table in Denver to rejoin Detroit this season. He made it clear after Game 4 he wanted to play for a winner. He's got maybe two seasons left to chase that ring. What Dumars has to do is convince McDyess his plan to rebuild the team this summer is going to work. If he can coax McDyess into holding off signing until he can make some moves after July 1, then maybe McDyess will re-up. If not, Boston, Cleveland and San Antonio -- to name a few -- will be looking for frontcourt help this summer."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "In December, the Suns took part in an NBA survey to gather feedback from their ticket buyers. The customers made it clear that they were as concerned at that point about the team as they were the economy. Since then, the Suns fired a coach, engaged in trade talks and missed the playoffs for the first time in five years. Yet, the Suns' challenge to sell season tickets is mostly economic. 'The team isn't the issue,' Suns President and Chief Operating Officer Rick Welts said. 'It's just the economy.' ... A sales staff of about 20 full-time employees and 10 part-timers work on luring fans and handle other arena events. 'The intensity feels like it's July already,' Walker said. &
    #39;I've had people ask, 'Now that you're not in the playoffs, do you finally get a chance to breathe?' I can't catch my breath.' What they are selling is the product Suns fans saw after the All-Star break under interim coach Alvin Gentry, who met with Sarver last week in a preliminary talk with each side intending on making his coaching title permanent. Under Gentry, the Suns went 18-13 and averaged 117.7 points, seven more than any other team after the All-Star break."