First Cup: Friday

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: The Thunder arrived as advertised — like a desperate team looking to save its season — while the Griz appeared out of sync and rattled. “There weren’t a lot of Xs and Os in this one,” Griz coach Dave Joerger said. “They came out with a lot of force, a lot of desperation and urgency.” Durant, the NBA’s presumptive Most Valuable Player, set the tone early and continued his scoring prowess late into the fourth quarter. He made 11 of 23 shots and converted 14 of 15 free throws. Forget all of the talk before the game about Durant being motivated by a headline in the Oklahoman that referred to Durant as “Mr. Unreliable.” “We were down 3-2,” said Durant, who added 10 rebounds in a spirited performance. “I was thinking elimination. We need to win this game. That’s more motivation than anything.” ... To a man, the Griz acknowledged that the Thunder was the more physical team. The Griz failed to match the Thunder’s poise, too, especially in a wild third quarter that produced three technical fouls.

  • Anthony Slaterof The Oklahoman: But in the crucial 104-84 blowout win, the Thunder also coached differently. And that was just as important. Facing elimination, Scott Brooks made the type of adjustments he’s long been hesitant to pull. And it started with the starting lineup. Without even hinting at it the past 48 hours, Brooks surprised the basketball world right before tip-off, benching lineup mainstay Thabo Sefolosha and replacing him with Caron Butler. It was his first strategic starting lineup change – due to neither injury nor trade – since his first year, when he replaced Earl Watson with Russell Westbrook. It paid immediate dividends. Butler’s presence infused an extra 3-point threat into the mix. During a dominant start to the game – a 19-8 Thunder lead seven minutes in – Butler hit a three. But more importantly, he improved the spacing, allowing both Durant and Russell Westbrook more room to operate and find an immediate rhythm.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: This crucial Game 6 in the historic Thunder-Grizzlies joust was decided early. Not late. The Thunder routed Memphis 104-84 at FedEx Forum to set up a Game 7 showdown Saturday night back in Oklahoma City. And a Thursday that began with an Oklahoman headline creating a national furor, referring to Durant as “Mr. Unreliable,” ended with Durant reminding us why the Thunder is an NBA title contender and should win this series, even if Memphis is meaner than a pack of unfed bears. “Durant went first and ate first tonight,” said Memphis coach Dave Joerger. “Sometimes he tries to get other people involved. I thought he was very assertive early in the game.” No doubt. Durant scored 14 first-quarter points and jumped the Thunder to a 25-17 lead. The lead was 56-41 at halftime, and the Grizzlies never got closer. That’s what superstars do. ... But Durant’s 36-point, 10-rebound game was no less what the Thunder needed after three discouraging losses in a playoff-record four straight overtime games. And Durant claimed no motivation from day-long scrutiny caused by the headline. “We were down 3-2” in the series, Durant said. “We were on the brink of elimination. That’s more motivation than anything."

  • Scott Agness of Pacers.com: Pacers coach Frank Vogel utilized different lineups, going small to match the Hawks’ size and foot speed and it proved to be effective. David West, the backbone of the Pacers, was the ‘Bad Man’ that he is down the stretch, scoring 12 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. After Hawks center Pero Antic knotted the game at 85, West beat his defender and sank a jumper with 46.5 seconds left to put the Pacers in front for good. In their 95-88 win at Philips Arena, the Pacers closed the game on a 16-4 run to extend the series and force a decisive Game 7 on the court — in Indianapolis Saturday night. The Hawks scored 12 unanswered points to open up a 10-point lead just over the midway point of the first quarter. At this point, Vogel went to a small ball lineup with Chris Copeland. The Pacers, who were dominated on the glass in the early going, used a 9-2 spurt, capped off by a 3-pointer from Copeland, for a two-point edge at the end of the first. Vogel made another lineup change to begin the second period, utilizing veteran Rasual Butler rather than Evan Turner.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The NBA will review a second-quarter altercation between the Hawks’ Mike Scott and the Pacers’ George Hill in Thursday’s Game 6 of the Eastern Conference playoff series, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned. The incident could lead to suspensions for several Pacers, including All-Star Paul George, who appeared to leave the bench and step onto the court. The league will also look into whether Hill poked Scott in the eye. A shoving match broke out between the Scott and Hill with 19 seconds left in the second quarter after they got tangled up under the basket. Hill confronted Scott and appeared to put his finger in the face of the Hawks player after a play under the Hawks basket. Television replays show Hill initiated the contact. Pacers coach Frank Vogel ran onto the court to separate the players. During the fracas, replays also showed Pacers players George and Rasual Butler stepping onto the court. According to NBA rules a player faces suspension for leaving the bench in the vicinity of an on-court altercation. There is precedent for a suspension in past postseasons.

  • Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle: For a game that may have ended the home season, it felt like a blessing, a guiding light into Saturday's Game 7 in Los Angeles. The Warriors are flying high once again, the very essence of compelling theater, and they have everything it takes to defeat "America's team" - that's what people are calling the Clippers, in the wake of Donald Sterling's banishment - at Staples Center. What a shame, then, that one of the really ludicrous debates of our time - "Will Mark Jackson be fired?" - will be a part of that. Doesn't this strike you as complete nonsense? Basic NBA truths are told on the floor and in the locker room. If the players love their coach, play with intensity and speak passionately in his defense - while winning 51 games in the regular season - that's pretty much the end of the argument. ... All of it pales against the bottom line - Game 7, the highlight of your weekend - and really, if management feels that nervous, why would Jackson even want to stay? Some very intriguing coaching jobs will be open, starting with the Knicks and Lakers, and Jackson would certainly look attractive to an organization looking for a spiritual and cultural uplift. I have a feeling Jackson is going to be just fine, wherever he is. He'll have learned a few things, emerging a better man. This is no time for his Oakland tenure to end.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: Stephen Curry, who scored 14 points in the first quarter, managed just 10 the rest of the way. His looks became scarce as the Warriors settled on him being a facilitator. He finished with 24 points and nine assists, but he was 9 of 24 from the field. Especially late, the offense was sketchy. And Jackson played a big part of that late, slowing down the pace with his love of isolation basketball. The Warriors scored 30 points in the fourth quarter, but stalled just enough offensively to keep hope alive for the Clippers. The last two elimination games in Oracle have been hairy. The Warriors nearly choked against Denver last year, and had nothing left in the tank against the Spurs. Thursday, the Warriors flirted dangerously with ending their season. But with co-owner Joe Lacob, who will decide Jackson's fate, watching closely from his courtside seat, the best of what the Warriors coach brings was on display. All of the clich├ęs he's been spouting came true. The Warriors put together a performance defined by their will more than their talent, by their chemistry more than their production. A tangible display of the kind of intangibles they'd be walking away from should they depart from Jackson.

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: Maybe people will point to Chris Paul’s missed layup in the final minute. Maybe they’ll point to J.J. Redick’s open 3-pointers that rattled out, Darren Collison’s mid-range jumpers that wouldn’t fall or Blake Griffin’s continued inability to score against smaller defenders. They wouldn’t be wrong. All those things cost the Clippers in a 100-99 loss to Golden State on Thursday, and any one correction probably would’ve sent the Clippers to the second round. Now, Game 7 will be Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Staples Center. ... Rivers expects it to be another battle Saturday, and his team has to respond. “I think it’ll be just like this and we have to be able to handle it,” Rivers said. “They were the tougher team tonight.”