Tuesday, May 15, 2012
First Cup: Tuesday
- Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Young legs ran circles around veteran mettle. Thunder blue routed Laker purple. Rest trumped rust. And Russ trumped them all. Russell Westbrook was the best player on a court full of all-stars, Kevin Durant was right there with him and the Thunder celebrated the end of a nine-day layoff with a 119-90 thrashing Monday night that sent a clear message. The Thunder is back. Back on the court. Back in the saddle of where it was before an April swoon lifted the Spurs to the Western Conference favorite role in the NBA playoffs. In Game 1 of this West semifinal series, the Thunder left the Lakers exasperated. Kobe Bryant went from frustrated to laughing at the futility by the fourth quarter. Twin towers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol sat on the bench for what seemed like forever after the game, trying to make sense of this run-rule. Rookie Devin Ebanks got ejected late and stripped to his waist, ala Bynum from a year ago, when the Lakers were unceremoniously swept by the Mavericks in the second round. Don't look now, but with the Thunder playing like this, another sweep is possible. ... “They're just younger and faster,” Kobe said with a degree of resignation. The Lakers are a proud franchise with a team full of stars. They won't go easy. But that doesn't mean they won't go quickly.
- Mark Whicker of The Orange County Register: There was more evidence that Ramon Sessions is exactly what he was when the Lakers got him from Cleveland – a backup point guard, at least on this level. He was supposed to keep point guards from burrowing inside the defense, and he was supposed to beat people downcourt. The Lakers scored zero fast-break points Monday. The Lakers had no conventional point guard under Phil Jackson. Sessions is a driver and disher, and it's obvious that few of his teammates, if any, know exactly where he's going and what he'll be doing. In the playoffs he is shooting 36.8 percent with 31 assists in eight games. But it's much more than that. The Lakers are now minus-32 in point differential in these playoffs and, for the third time, lost a game by 15 or more points. Last season ended with a 36-point flameout in Dallas, and Bynum decking J.J. Barea and removing his shirt on his way out. Monday night ended with Devin Ebanks getting tossed and losing his shirt. The playoffs can be revealing.
- Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Winning close games was a skill that eluded the Sixers during the entire regular season. While they were adept at creating blowouts on those nights when the opposition didn't want to fight through their clinging defense, they weren't very good at finishing games in which the outcome was in doubt. During the regular season, the Sixers were 5-18 in games decided by eight or fewer points and 1-8 in games decided by five or fewer points. That's why it was shocking when three of their four wins against Chicago in the opening round of the playoffs came by eight points or fewer. Against Boston, however, the Sixers are playing one of the most efficient teams in the league, a team that has made a career out of delivering when it matters. The Celtics rarely run up scores – they took the fewest field-goal attempts in the league – and they don't get to the free-throw line very often. So how do they win? They win with their defense, particularly their fourth-quarter defense. In Game 1 of this series, they trailed the Sixers by 10 points early in the final quarter and then shut down the Sixers' offense for nearly an eight-minute stretch before pulling out the one-point win. ... Neither team shot well or handled the ball well, and if age is affecting the Celtics, then inexperience costs the Sixers just as often. In the end this time, however, the Sixers started creating their own history, even if just a little bit. If Evan Turner can find his way to the basket once in that situation, he can do it again. And if the 76ers can win close games, that's a good thing. Because they don't play any other kind.
- Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: A night like this was expected, when the engine on Kevin Garnett’s time machine was going to sputter and Paul Pierce’s left knee would prevent him from creating any space from Andre Iguodala. The Celtics desperately needed offensive support from someone other than their Big Two. They needed a reserve or secondary contributor to produce and show enough guile to help the Celtics avoid scoring skids against the brutally difficult Philadelphia defense. That didn’t happen Monday and Boston was dealt an 82-81 loss in Game 2 at TD Garden, handing over home-court advantage as Philadelphia returns home for two games with a legitimate chance to take control of the series. After flirting with putting the 76ers away early, the Celtics had little to offer offensively for the next two quarters. And it wasn’t Garnett’s issue; he managed to hit 7 of 12 shots despite being tripled-teamed in stretches. Meanwhile, Pierce may not be an offensive factor in this series. Iguodala is one of the game’s top defenders and against a wobbly Pierce, he is even more effective. The Celtics tried to work Pierce into the offense down the stretch and he couldn’t deliver. He was 0-for-4 shooting with 2 points in the second half, when the Celtics only needed one final push to prevail. ... The 76ers are good enough defensively to expose any team’s offensive weakness and the Celtics have plenty. Before they watch their Big Three Era end prematurely, the Celtics need someone besides that trio to respond with buckets. They have been getting by riding the back of Garnett for a few games, but those days may be over. So who’s going to step up next?
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: When T.D. (Tim Duncan) lofted a perfect halfcourt pass to M.G. (Manu Ginobili), who scampered 20 feet before shuttling the ball to M.B. (Matt Bonner) for a wide open 3-pointer — all in a carefully scripted 3.4 seconds — it might have looked like something the Spurs had done a thousand times before. It wasn’t. “We hadn’t practiced it once,” Bonner said. Over time, Spurs players have become accustomed to such flits of imagination from their head coach. The latest gave them a one-point halftime lead in Game 3 against Utah, swinging momentum and pointing the way toward a first-round sweep. It was enough to confirm a suspicion forward Stephen Jackson had long held about the coach he has affectionately nicknamed “Obi Wan.” “He can see the future,” Jackson said. “He’s a genius.” The top-seeded Spurs return to the AT&T Center tonight for Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals boasting a 14-game winning streak and about as many reasons to like their chances of advancement. Somewhere on that list: They have the NBA’s Coach of the Year in their huddle, and the Los Angeles Clippers do not. ... Though Spurs players wouldn’t dare offer a negative critique of an opposing coach, it is clear they expect no such crunch-time mistake out of theirs. “This is chess, not checkers,” Jackson said. “Pop knows what he’s doing.” For that reason, and others, the Spurs have to like their chances in the chess match that begins tonight.
- Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: The Clippers' win over the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference quarterfinals was barely 10 minutes old when Chris Paul stood at his locker inside FedEx Forum and offered some insight on what lay ahead. "We're going from physical to mental," Paul shouted to his teammates. "Physical to mental." The implication was obvious. While Memphis presented a tough, rugged challenge for the Clippers, the San Antonio Spurs offer something else entirely in the conference semifinals. When Paul and the Clippers take the floor tonight in San Antonio for Game 1, they will try to match wits with one of the smartest, well-coached, fundamentally sound teams in the NBA. The Spurs are as physically gifted as they come with an MVP candidate in point guard Tony Parker, ageless power forward Tim Duncan and sixth-man supreme Manu Ginobili, but their real strength is a deep understanding of coach Gregg Popovich's basketball philosophy, an unusual, long-standing cohesion with one another and most of all a command of how to win. ... For a young team like the Clippers, the Spurs present one of the great challenges. But after escaping Memphis in a grueling seven-game series, the Clippers seemed poised for another one. "Physical to mental," Paul reminded his teammates. "Physical to mental."
- Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Paul George pinned his struggles in Game 1 on not getting many touches in the offense. He attempted five shots, making one. "People criticize me for not being aggressive; it's hard to be aggressive when I'm not touching the ball," George said. Vogel met with his players Monday morning and had a message for all of them. "We're all in this together and there's going to be a lot of folks out there that are going to, every time you lose a game, they're going to try to find blame somewhere and we're all playing for each other," Vogel recalled telling them. "Defense is going to dictate who gets the shots, not the offense. They're going to take away the options they want to take away and ball movement will dictate who gets the shots. Being assertive means attacking to draw help and then moving the ball."
- Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: Now, with Chris Bosh likely out for a while, there’s an even greater burden on Haslem, who’s averaging 3.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and shooting 31.8 percent (7 for 22) in the playoffs. He went 0 for 4 from the field, with five rebounds, in 22 minutes in Game 1 against Indiana. “I can’t judge myself on how I’m playing on offense,” Haslem said. “The way I look at the game is how I’m doing on the boards and how I do defensively. On the boards, I led us in rebounds per minute last series, and I intend to do the same this series.” One of the great mysteries of this Heat season has been the decline in Haslem’s shooting percentage to 42.3, well below his 49.4 career average. Coach Erik Spoelstra said he has no explanation. “All I know is he has [made shots] in big moments,” Spoelstra said. Haslem said he doesn’t need to score more in Bosh’s absence: “The other guys, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, will pick up the scoring load, so I’ll focus on the energy and rebounding part.” Asked about not playing in the past two fourth quarters, Haslem said, “I want to be out there, but guys have been getting it done in the fourth quarter.”