Thursday, May 15, 2014
First Cup: Thursday
By Nick Borges
- Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Tony Parker was in the Spurs' locker room, done for the night with a hamstring injury. Manu Ginobili was still looking for his long-lost jump shot. Suddenly, Game 5 of the Western Conference semifinals was looking like the Game 7 the Spurs had been trying to pretend it was. Then Kawhi Leonard used those frying pan hands -- 9.8 inches long, 11.3 inches wide -- to seize the game and the series for the Spurs. The Spurs delivered fifth-seeded Portland a knockout blow with a 104-82 victory Wednesday night, in about the time it took Leonard to steal the ball and go coast-to-coast. "We really needed this one, for multiple reasons," Ginobili said. "We didn't want to get on the plane again tomorrow." Seemingly everywhere, hawking balls and finishing breaks, Leonard canceled the Spurs' Thursday flight.
- Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com: Come on, now, Las Vegas had the over/under on Portland wins this season at 38. And this team finished tied for fourth in the conference and won a first-round playoff series. Yes, it lost in five games to the Spurs in the second round... but really, it IS San Antonio and those guys don't make a habit of dropping series to teams as playoff-green as Portland. The sad byproduct of success is unrealistic expectations -- and if you glance at my Twitter timeline you'll find plenty of evidence of that. There are people who apparently expected Portland to do better against San Antonio. Some, I think, thought this team was championship material. Well, maybe someday. But the truth is, the Spurs have so much more experience and depth that there was just no way Portland could stand up to the relentless pace. ... And I have no doubt there are plenty of basketball fans hurting in Portland right now. That will go away quickly, though. And what will remain will be the memory of a very, very fun season. A season that shocked the city and most of the NBA world.
- Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Chance are Miami will need more from Wade moving forward, more offensive nights like this one, if the Heat is to get back to the Finals, let alone have a chance to three-peat. The issue is bigger than this postseason, of course. It’s about the future. It’s about this summer, when James will decide whether to re-sign with Miami or move on in free agency. Will he still see in Wade an elite-level, top-10 player and worthy sidekick? Or will he see an injury-marred, fading star? Wednesday, we saw a Wade still closer to the former, still capable of excellence in spurts, if not always. We have been here before. Seen this before. When Wade is doubted, questioned, put in a position to prove he remains in his prime, albeit the far side of it, he does. He has that reservoir. His team has it, too. Because it takes more than talent to forge the miracle rally Miami did Wednesday night. First, it takes belief. Nets coach Jason Kidd didn’t call the Heat by their city or nickname in his postgame news conference. Kidd kept calling them “the world champions.” He’d just been an eye-witness to why.
- Andrew Keh of The New York Times: The $192 million experiment came to an end on Wednesday. After building the most expensive team in N.B.A. history last summer and proclaiming their intentions of winning a championship, the Nets encountered the Miami Heat — the two-time defending champions, the team they were built to topple — and saw their ambitions extinguished in five games. The final game ended in heartbreaking fashion. The Nets allowed a 9-point lead to slip away in the fourth quarter, and although Joe Johnson had a chance to tie the score in the closing seconds, he was never able to try a shot. ... The Nets will descend into a period of uncertainty. The biggest questions will revolve around Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, who were acquired last summer in a trade with the Boston Celtics and highlighted the Nets’ off-season overhaul. Garnett has a year left on his contract, but speculation about whether he will retire has simmered all season, and Pierce is a free agent. Garnett did not make himself available to speak to reporters after the game. Pierce took questions but did not offer many solid answers. “I’m going to sit back, talk to the family, weigh my options and go from there,” Pierce said. “I think I still have something in the tank I can give a team."
- Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The Wizards kept their season alive Tuesday with an emphatic 102-79 victory over the Pacers in Game 5 . But if they want to take another step toward becoming just the ninth NBA team, including the 1979 Bullets, to come back from a three-games-to-one deficit to win a best-of-seven playoff series, the Wizards will have to overcome the mysterious little monsters that have plagued them at Verizon. ... The Wizards are 5-1 on the road this postseason, the best mark of any team in the playoffs, and set a franchise mark for margin of victory in a road playoff game in Game 5. Washington, however, has been nearly as awful at home as it has been good on the road. The Wizards are 1-3 at Verizon Center in the playoffs, with the lone win coming in Game 4 against Chicago. Despite those shortcomings, the Wizards believe they can fend off elimination again and upset the top-seeded Pacers, who lead three games to two.
- Scott Agness of Pacers.com: The buzzwords in the locker room after Game 5 were “desperation” and “toughness,” both of which the Pacers will need to bring to Game 6. If not, the Pacers and Wizards may end up squaring off in a decisive Game 7 back at the Fieldhouse on Sunday. Because of the Wizards “manhandling,” as Paul George put it, of the Pacers in Game 5, coach Frank Vogel said he wouldn’t mind if the team took the bad taste in their mouth in to Thursday’s game. Getting outrebounded by 39 and shooting just 39 percent on your home floor will do that. The Wizards made a few minor adjustments, with their aggressiveness on the ball handlers most prevalent. The pace certainly favored the Wizards, who thrive on the run. That kept the Pacers on their heels and they never appeared comfortable all night. The Wizards’ performance didn’t surprise the Pacers; they knew what they were capable of. The Wizards upped their level of intensity and played with desperation. Now, the Pacers want to turn the tables around on their floor.
- Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: Scott Brooks was asked Wednesday what kind of feeding frenzy would have occurred had his point guard, Russell Westbrook, committed two turnovers in the final 15 seconds and fouled a 3-point shooter with a two-point lead, as Clipper point guard Chris Paul did in Game 5. Brooks just laughed. “I can sit here for hours and talk about all the things I love about Russell,” Brooks said. “It seems he does get criticized for a lot of things. Somebody misses a shot, it’s Russell’s fault. Somebody turns the ball over, it’s Russell’s fault. One thing I love about Russell, he competes every single night. He plays for his team every single night. He doesn’t get involved in all the things that are said about him, and why should he? You can’t win over everybody. As long as you can win over your teammates, that’s the respect every player wants. And that’s the respect I talk about with our group."
- Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: The Clippers didn’t just lose the game as a result, they never had the chance to take a shot to win it. And that burned Paul deeply. “Bad, bad basketball wise.” Paul said afterward. He was visibly shaken, trying to make sense of a final minute of personal mistakes. Paul typically shines in such moments. He doesn’t always sink the winning shot but he at leasts puts his team in position to win more often then not. That’s his job, one he takes great pride in. But on Tuesday a case could be made the very man the Clippers entrust most in critical moments let them down. Paul not only felt the wrath, he personally shouldered all blame. You wonder how he’ll rebound in Game 6, unfamiliar as he is with the kind of meltdown he suffered. But he has to, they all do. The Clippers can’t afford one more second of refection on the crazy events of Game 5. Their season depends on it.
- Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: At some point, it will become clear whether Steve Kerr worked out as the Warriors coach. Is starting anew with another rookie coach the right move? That will have to play out on the court. But for now, the Warriors got their man. Improbably. Again. When management knew they were parting ways with Mark Jackson, Kerr was on the shortlist along with Stan Van Gundy. And even though Phil Jackson and the big stage of New York were knocking at Kerr's door, the Warriors won him over. Sure, they had to pay big bucks. Kerr's five-year, $25 million contract is a pretty penny for a guy who's never coached at any level. The New York Knicks, where most thought Kerr would land, reportedly would offer him only a four-year deal. The Warriors set their sights on a guy, and they made it happen. They knew who they wanted and went all in. ... There will be plenty time to pontificate on whether Kerr can keep the defense among the best in the league. His plan for maintaining, or improving, team chemistry, and his coaching style will unfold over time. Whether he can handle the pressure or a combustible Joe Lacob sitting courtside when things don't go well is fodder for down the line. But for now, it's worth noting the Warriors got their man. Improbably. Again.
- Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post: But most telling — and troubling — aspect of all is this: The strongest part of Jackson’s game, the thing that allowed everyone to overlook the gaping hole in his GM-free résumé, was it was believed — assumed — that by force of personality and sway of his 11 rings he would be able to coax, convince and connive enough talent to rebuild and reload the Knicks, the way his ancient rival, Pat Riley, did in Miami. Bolstered by that hubris, he already has talked to Carmelo Anthony about taking less money to stay with the Knicks so Jackson can pad the roster with the extra cash as he hits the recruiting trail. That was an odd play anyway, never seemed remotely connected to logic. And now that he has seen Jackson’s first attempt at closing? How’s Anthony supposed to feel about that?