Tuesday, June 5, 2012
First Cup: Tuesday
- Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Oklahoma City withstood the stubborn San Antonio Spurs down the stretch on Monday night to take a 108-103 win in Game 5 inside the AT&T Center. A win in Game 6 on Wednesday will crown the Thunder as Western Conference champions in just its fourth year in Oklahoma City. The young, up-and-coming Thunder would become only the 15th team in NBA history to come back from a 2-0 series hole to win a best-of-seven series. It's now a reality that looked as bleak as can be last week, when the cagey old Spurs were sending a message to the Thunder that it might not be its time. “We never just thought that we were supposed to wait our turn,” said Kevin Durant. “We always wanted to go and take everything.” On this night, the Thunder did just that. ... "We were in the same situation going into the fourth up nine that we were in Game 1,” Westbrook said. “And during the timeout, guys came together and said, ‘We're not letting this happen again.' We all came together, became closer, and I think we hit two big shots and kind of willed us to a win.” The Thunder now sits one away from its destination.
- Mike Sherman of The Oklahoman: And about the time everyone in Oklahoma felt like channeling Catherine O'Hara in “Home Alone” by screaming “KEVIN???????” at their television set, the NBA's three-time leading scorer swooped in to do what Scott Brooks, Manu Ginobili and everyone else who has really been paying attention knew he he'd do. He saved the Thunder. Sure James Harden deserves top billing for hitting the biggest shot of this series, and his life. And the Thunder would not have been going home one win away from the NBA Finals without all eight of those points Cook scored in a four-minute stretch of the fourth quarter. But it was all that other stuff, and those 27 points, that Durant crammed into three quarters that steadied and carried the Thunder to victory. Durant's Game 5 performance was no where near as dramatic or commanding as his fourth-quarter takeover in Game 4, when he scored 18 of his 36 points in a seven-minute stretch to help the Thunder even the series 2-2. But no one, especially San Antonio, sloughed it off. “He's always a factor,” Ginobili said.
- Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Post-shower sweat was still trickling off Tim Duncan’s brow after the Spurs absorbed their third straight loss to the Thunder in the Western Conference finals, a debilitating 108-103 loss at the AT&T Center, but Duncan had a request that surprised everyone: Start Game 6 immediately, please. “I’m ready to play right now,” the Spurs captain said after scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in just over 33 minutes of court time. “It’s a heartbreaking way to end that game. I’m ready to get ready to get out there and lace them up again and go.” The Thunder will demand Duncan and his teammates wait until the series changes venues and returns to Oklahoma City, but Duncan’s wish to get back in action immediately summarized the Spurs’ feelings about a game they believed they had positioned themselves to win before the 3-point dagger James Harden dropped on them with 28.8 seconds remaining. “They had guys hit some big shots for them, mostly James’ big three when they were up two,” Duncan said. “That was a huge one for them. ... All in all, I think we had the right game plan. We just need to play better for longer.”
- Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: These are the moments that win championships. But if Game 6 follows with something similar, the Spurs will have a sick feeling when they remember Monday. It wasn’t just that they lost, or that the Thunder kept responding. The Spurs were unrecognizable from the team that won 20 in a row. That they still had a chance will give them a reason to believe they can win in Oklahoma City. Manu Ginobili had about the same kind of 3-point look to tie that Harden had just seconds earlier, and that’s how close it was. “Bottom line,” Ginobili said afterward, “every season we won the championship, we had situations like that, and every season we lost, we had those, too. So it happens.” But it happened this time because the Spurs put themselves in this position. At home, facing the pivotal game of the series, they were nothing like the team that came together the last two months. Only Ginobili and Stephen Jackson showed up in the first half. Everyone else — including Gregg Popovich — looked worse for it.
- David J. Neal of The Miami Herald: All the athletic health buzzwords — “evaluations,” “significant progress” and “premature” — departed Heat coach Erik Spoelstra’s mouth regarding the possible Game 5 return of Chris Bosh and settled into a loop of attempted vague. Meanwhile, I sat there wondering: Can Chris Bosh teach his teammates to hit free throws? Will his presence prompt them to actually run a play on the final possession of a close game? Because that’s why the Heat sits tied 2-2 with Boston going into Tuesday’s Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. Not the absence of Bosh, but the absence of basic actions you expect from an NBA team, especially one in the conference final a year after being in the NBA Finals.
- Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post: Sometimes success has revolved around Dwyane Wade, sometimes not. Wade's production against the Pacers ranged from five points to 41. He scored 22 and 23 points the first two games vs. Boston but has shot 16 of 42 (38 percent) in the two losses. Over the past eight games, he has shot 67 percent from the line, 11 points lower than his career average. Monday, Spoelstra suggested the Heat may have to "grind games" to cool off Boston's shooters. "Maybe not all the possessions will be pretty," he said. The Heat had opportunities to win at the end of regulation and overtime Sunday, but Haslem missed a desperation heave in the fourth quarter and Wade couldn't convert on a three-pointer in OT, when Miami managed just two points. "We'll work on it," Spoelstra said of late-game strategy. "We want to make sure they're getting in places where they feel comfortable. Everybody has to be a live option. It can't be a situation where everybody knows and thinks and is absolutely sure who's shooting the ball."
- Frank Dell’Apa of The Boston Globe: The Celtics are very aware of the Heat’s aces. But they are uncertain when, or if, the Heat will play Chris Bosh, the one they have up their sleeve. It could be in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday night. If there was ever a time to throw all your cards on the table, now is it. “We have [prepared] every game,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said Monday. “So we don’t have to do anything different. We’ve prepared every game like Bosh is going to play and, eventually, he will - maybe [Tuesday].’’ The series has taken on some of the characteristics of a game of wits, with Rivers and Miami coach Erik Spoelstra playing different hands nearly every game. The Heat pulled out several unexpected combinations in the last two games, taking the Celtics by surprise in the second half of a 93-91 overtime loss in Game 4 Sunday. Bosh could be the wild card of this series, should he recover from an abdominal strain. So far, the Celtics’ tactics have been based on having a significant inside matchup advantage with Kevin Garnett, who is averaging 20.5 points and 10.8 rebounds.
- Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald: Rajon Rondo, having already contributed a scrapbook moment with his 44-point effort in Game 2, emerging as the no-more-calls-we-have-a-winner MVP of this series? It might happen. And if it does, the late-night talk-show comedians will get a month’s worth of jokes at LeBron’s expense. And Rondo will move up about 12 notches on that crazy long list of certified Celtics greats. But raise your hand if, deep down, you’re a little worried about Rondo. Throw up your hand if there’s a little fear in your belly that Rondo is going to do something, say something, maybe even wear something, that ruins the party and sends LeBron & Co. to San Antonio or Oklahoma City for the NBA Finals. (OK, he’s already been called for wearing the Michael Jackson jacket earlier during the Atlanta series, and it didn’t do any harm. So . . . never mind.) But Rondo did two things Sunday night that, while not necessarily controversial as singular events, should at least be discussed as possible red flags. One of them was his choice of words during a pair of interviews — one at halftime, the other after the game — with ESPN’s talented Doris Burke. ... what about that little incident in the second quarter when Rondo was called for an offensive foul, and then, while plopped on the floor, felt the need to take a kick at the Heat’s Shane Battier? Rondo was hit with a technical foul for that one. Again, if it was an isolated plot line, buried in the script of a mid-January game against the Charlotte Bobcats, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. But this is June, not January. This is LeBron and the Heat, not Kemba Walker and the Bobcats.
- John Canzano of The Oregonian: I love that Neil Olshey once tested for a lead role as an actor on the soap opera "General Hospital." It's true. He came to Los Angeles as an actor, and had roles on "All My Children," "One Life to Live" and "Loving." And on Monday, he landed the role of a lifetime. Olshey was hired as the Blazers' general manager. He's either going to save the Trail Blazers franchise, or he's going to join the ranks of those who have been chewed up by the wild ride of a Paul Allen machine and spit out in the back alley at One Center Court. Olshey ends up a surprisingly practical hire. It's not shiny. It's not shocking. As a huge positive, it appears that the guy knows how to negotiate brilliantly. Olshey reportedly had a deal with the Clippers on Friday, and then, backed out to accept the gig in Portland. The Clippers worked hard on Monday to spin that into a palatable tale. ... Olshey just signed on for a job that hasn't been kind to the men who came before him. I'm sure he knows all about it. His agent, Warren LeGarie, is the agent for Kevin Pritchard, Tom Penn and John Nash. LeGarie was the architect of that "They just did a drive-by," quote that infuriated the Blazers when they fired Penn a couple of years ago. The big surprise wasn't Olshey, but that Allen was willing to dine at LeGarie's restaurant a fourth time. And for that, you have to think the Blazers either suddenly saw something they had to have in Olshey, or that Allen's chief lieutenant (Bert Kolde) simply won out after pushing for Olshey all last month. As much as the hire lacks luster and won't cause a rush on season tickets, they're getting a guy who was the sitting general manager while the Clippers turned their fortune.
- Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com: Sources say the Trail Blazers reached out to Olshey over the weekend and offered him a three-year deal with a team option on the fourth. The Clippers were willing to match whatever the Trail Blazers threw out there, but ultimately Olshey decided to take his talents to Portland. ... Olshey, 47, will now attempt to duplicate the success he had in Los Angeles. The Trail Blazers have two lottery picks in the upcoming NBA draft and the team is still without a head coach. One thing to keep in mind: Olshey and Trail Blazers interim head coach, Kaleb Canales, share the same agent – Warren LeGarie – and that should definitely help Canales' cause.