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First Cup: Friday

4/25/2014
  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: They enjoyed the benefits of a preferred pace, offensive balance and more disruptive defense. Discipline clearly is an advantage for the Grizzlies too. After blowing a 17-point, fourth quarter lead, the Grizzlies maintained their poise Thursday night and earned a 98-95 overtime victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series at FedExForum. Memphis, just like in Game 2, was unfazed by an Oklahoma City rally and relied on its composure to take 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven, first-round series. Game 4 is Saturday night. “Coming home, I thought we played even keel,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said after his team won its 15th straight game in FedExForum, dating back to the end of the regular season. “We were pretty sharp for most of the game."

  • Mel Bracht of The Oklahoman: TNT’s Charles Barkley held court at haltime, even lecturing Thunder star Kevin Durant, the likely MVP, on one of the weaknesses in his game. “I’ve been saying for the last three years, and Kevin Durant clearly don’t watch the show. He has a hole in his game. When they play little guys on him, I don’t understand why he doesn’t post up. He takes them out on the floor and tries to dribble around him. If he were to add a post-up game to his game, as great a player as he is, it would take his game to a whole new level. They would have to double him on the block.” Barkley noted the Thunder “had the psychological thing going on. “They are struggling to find their identity right now. ...They got to get the tempo of the game speed up. If Oklahoma City doesn’t get to 100 points, I don’t think that they are going to win the game.”

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: The Thunder salvaged its pride. We’ll see if it can salvage its season. For two straight games, the Thunder has staged a comeback for the ages, fueled by a final-minute four-point play. OKC’s 17-0 run wiped out Memphis’ lead, then Westbrook – Russell, not Ray – produced a four-point play with 26.6 seconds left in regulation. But just like Monday night in Game 2, the Grizzlies then took command in overtime. The Thunder was oh, so close to two unforgettable victories. Now the Thunder is two games shy of elimination. Beating the Grizzlies anywhere is becoming increasingly difficult, and beating them in FedEx Forum is becoming Herculean. Memphis has won 15 straight at home, and over three playoff series since 2011, the Thunder is 1-5 in the Grindhouse, needing three overtimes to get that one victory. The bench suddenly stinks. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, who played valiantly but not wisely, threw up 21 3-point shots and made but four. The Thunder is turning Memphis pit bull Tony Allen (16 points) into a star. And now there’s sniping within the family. Sorry, but the brother of one of the franchise cornerstones counts. Who knows how much togetherness the Thunder has as critical Game 4 approaches Saturday night?

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The numbers are on the Hawks’ side for a major upset. The Hawks took a 2-1 series lead over the Pacers with a 98-85 victory in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first round playoff series Thursday night at Philips Arena. The eighth-seeded Hawks took a big step in upsetting the top-seed Pacers. According to Elias Sports Bureau, in all-time best-of-seven series tied 1-1 the Game 3 winner has won 76.8 percent of the series (152-46). Since the 2002-03 season, when the first round became best-of -seven again, in series tied 1-1 the Game 3 winner has won 79.7 percent of the series (55-14). Only five times in NBA playoff history has an eight seeded ousted a one seed in the first round. “Playoffs are long and the series is long,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said before the game. “Each game takes on a life of its own. It’s very early in the series. Obviously, the more you win the better. Game 3 is very early in a series.” History favors the Hawks.

  • Mark Montieth of Pacers.com: What do you do about Roy Hibbert and George Hill? Especially Hibbert. What do you do with a 7-2, 280-pound center—an All-Star no less—who has become invisible? Do you bench him and risk destroying whatever shreds of confidence he has left for the rest of the playoffs, if you manage to survive the first round? Or, do you keep rolling him out and hope that he somehow shakes the demons that have haunted him for the past six weeks? Do you stick with the lineup that owned the NBA's best record through much of the first half of the season, and won 56 games? Or do you make a bold move to try to win the season's biggest game on Saturday? Hibbert has struggled too long for it to be called a slump. It's in his head now, in a big way. Vogel acknowledged that his center is “struggling with his confidence,” but also refused to commit to taking him out of the starting lineup. “We'll look at everything,” Vogel said. “But I have confidence in Roy Hibbert. He hasn't played well in this series to this point, but I have great confidence in him.” Pressed on the issue, Vogel said: “We're not going to quit on him, I know that.” Whether Hibbert starts or not isn't that big of a concern. It's how long Vogel stays with him when he's struggling. Hibbert played just 19 minutes on Thursday, one less than his backup, Ian Mahinmi.

  • Wheat_Hotchkiss of Pacers.com: “I think the energy level that we’ve had in our good moments, like the third quarter in Indiana (in Game 2), we’ve just got to find a way to make those moments longer,” Scola said. That has been the theme with this Pacers team as of late. They play well in spurts, but haven’t been able to sustain play at a high level like they were doing earlier in the season. They aren’t panicking, but they know that they need a better effort to win Game 4. Where the team is mentally remains unclear. Paul George was frank postgame, saying “our toughness is questionable right now." “We’ve got to understand it’s a long series,” George said. “It’s one game at a time, one possession at a time. But we have to start building some consistency." But David West, the team’s veteran leader, refused to read too much into one rough night.

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Chris Paul labored up and down the court for most of Thursday night’s game with Golden State. He’d been dealing with a sore hamstring and a 100-degree fever, and spent most of his night chasing and harassing Stephen Curry all over the Oracle Arena floor. But when the Clippers needed it most in the final minutes of a crucial Game 3, Paul somehow found a way to give a little more. “It's just will to win,” teammate Jamal Crawford said. “That's what makes him great.” Paul scored eight points in the final 3:17, helping the Clippers escape with a 98-96 win over Golden State. Curry converted two 3’s to give the Warriors one final chance, but with Paul blanketed on him, his potential winner came up well short. The Clippers lead the series 2-1, regaining homecourt advantage. “You just try to find a way,” Paul said.

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: His name is Blake Griffin, and if it wasn't obvious before now, the truth has become as clear as his scowl and as rich as his voice. He does more than dunk. He splashes, he spins, he fires, he finesses and most of all, as he proved Thursday night, he wins. On the back of a seemingly unstoppable force who has become as versatile on the court as in his commercials, the Clippers rode Griffin's 32 points and eight rebounds to take control of this fight with a 98-96 victory and a two-games-to-one series lead. "I don't have any words for you when it comes to Blake Griffin," said teammate Darren Collison. Well, let's try. ... It was Chris Paul who eventually swarmed Curry into a game-ending airball for the victory, and it was DeAndre Jordan whose 22 rebounds and five blocks led a tremendous defensive charge, but this one was all about Griffin.

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: Stephen Curry laughed off questions about State Farm's decision to release a TV advertisement starring him and Chris Paul at the start of the series between the Warriors and Clippers adding to the rivalry between the point guards. "I don't know the whole decision-making process of when they released it, but I'm guessing it worked out pretty well for State Farm," said Curry, who filmed the commercial last summer. "That's got nothing to do with what's going on on the floor."