LeBron and Kobe might be the two best players in the conference finals, but it's the teams with the deeper 2-through-8s that are making the strongest statements. Would the Suns do the unthinkable and deal the face of their franchise? And how will the Celtics replenish their roster?
John Krolik of Cavs the Blog: "A guiding [military] principle is that every soldier, no matter what the rank, should know the mission, and, at all times, should be qualified to make decisions when the chain of command breaks down. Every player on this Magic team is prepared to make the play, make the shot, at any time. Go under one screen, cut off one option, two options, and the man with the ball in his hands is ready to make the shot. The Cavs team is still looking for LeBron [James] to provide guidance, to make the play. The Magic are functioning as a unit ready to take a good shot at any time, whenever it presents itself. That's not risky basketball, live or die basketball. That's how the game should be played. 5 players, all dangerous and waiting to make the play if it presents itself. Rafer Alston is the best example of this; the Cavs were sagging hard on Rashard [Lewis] and Hedo [Turkoglu], going under Rafer and not helping off them in any circumstance. Rafer was ready to make the shots, and he did. Absolutely monstrous. That's the play the defense allows, and the play that got made. You live with it, except now you're down 1-3 and really not living with it."
Zach McCann of Orlando Magic Daily: "To use a baseball analogy, Rafer Alston was the starting pitcher tonight, scoring 26 points in regulation and forcing the Cavs to adjust to his hot shooting hand. Rashard Lewis was the set-up man, scoring 10 fourth-quarter points and sinking a 3-pointer with 4.1 seconds left that ultimately forced the game into overtime. And the closer? None other than Dwight Howard, who bullied the Cavs on his way to 10 points in the overtime period. Count a win for Alston, a hold for Lewis and a save for Howard ... Howard was magnificent, carrying the Magic in overtime and establishing himself as a go-to, crunch-time guy for the first time in his career ... And oh yeah, he sunk two pressure-packed free throws with 21 seconds left to seal the deal."
Kurt Helin of Forum Blue & Gold: "There are no easy answers for the Lakers, no simple Xs and Os adjustment that changes the series. Maybe Phil [Jackson] just goes back to his set regular season rotation and stops searching. But the fact is, it is a coach's job to put players in a position to succeed - then the players have to make plays. What the rotation is doesn't matter if guys are not stepping up. I don't think the game four loss to Denver was like the game four lost to Houston -- I think the Lakers tried. But guys that were hitting shots and making defensive plays in the regular season are not now, and as an optimistic by nature person I want to find another reason other than that these guys shrink in the brightest of lights. After last season in the Finals I thought this was just a maturity thing, that the experience would toughen them up. And it did [Pau] Gasol, who is playing much better. [Trevor] Ariza is giving us all we can really expect out of him. But the other guys? The time for excuses is gone. Best of three for a trip to the NBA Finals. It doesn't get much bigger than this. It is time to step up or the Lakers are going home."
THE FINAL WORD
Hoopinion: Pop Quiz -- Which player made the lowest percentage of his two-point jump shots this season?
Queen City Hoops: Is Gerald Wallace secretly a power forward?
Valley of the Suns: Should PHX consider trading Steve Nash?
Celtics Hub: Boston's troublesome spreadsheet.
(Photos by Nathaniel S. Butler, Gary Bogdon, Jed Jacobsohn/NBAE via Getty Images)