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First Cup: Monday

  • Jean-Jacques Taylor of The Dallas Morning News: "The Spurs pushed the Mavs to the brink of playoff elimination with a 92-89 win Sunday night at the AT&T Center. If it weren't so pathetic, it would be sad. This isn't about effort or desire or any other intangible. This is about the Spurs, a franchise with championship pedigree, finding ways to win, while the Mavs, a franchise with a history of choking in the playoffs, finds ways to lose. The players and coaches won't like that. Neither will the owner. Too bad. Until they change it, choking in the postseason is a part of the Mavs' history, just like losing in December was part of the Cowboys' history until they did something about it last season. The Cowboys have cast aside those late-season struggles. We're still waiting for the Mavs to escape history's grip."

  • Mike Finger of the San Antonio Express-News: "After a frustrated Dirk Nowitzki decided to get physical with DeJuan Blair, Richard Jefferson exacted a dose of German-aimed revenge straight out of a Quentin Tarantino fantasy. Later, Eduardo Najera padded his takedown stats with one of the most efficient 47-second nights in NBA playoff history. Once the flagrant foul-tinged dust settled from a furor one Dallas player referred to as 'hostile' and another called a 'streetfight,' Game 4 of the first-round playoff series between the Spurs and Mavericks waited to be claimed. And in what might prove to be the most important few moments of Dallas' season? 'We didn't respond the right way,' Nowitzki said. 'We lost our composure a little bit,' said forward Shawn Marion. 'A lot of our wounds,' center Brendan Haywood said, 'were self-inflicted.' Although the Mavericks looked like anything but a cohesive unit during their 92-89 loss to the Spurs at the AT&T Center on Sunday, they were at least united in where they placed the blame in the meltdown's aftermath. To a man, they put it on themselves. Now, after blowing a 15-point lead, Dallas faces a 3-1 series hole, a deficit only eight teams have overcome in the history of the NBA. They return home for Tuesday's Game 5, and their first priority is simple. 'We've got to stop the bleeding,' Nowitzki said."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "Behind a playoff-best 29 pointsfrom George Hill and an unlikely boost from unlikely sources, the Spurs survived one of Tim Duncan's worst postseason games to push the Mavericks to the edge of elimination. 'I couldn't hit the side of a barn,' said Duncan, who finished 1 of 9 for four points, his lone basket coming off a rare Hill miss. 'It says a lot about this team we could fight through and find a way to win.' With the victory, the Spurs pushed their series edge to 3-1 as the festivities return to Dallas for Game 5 on Tuesday."

  • Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer: "There are 4,700 square feet on an NBA court. Once LeBron James leaves the Cavaliers' locker room, almost any of them can become the opposition's hurt locker. He can score on shots that are flicked from afar, not flung. On shots taken with a reasonable expectation of prowess rewarded, not prayers answered. On shots that are as pure as a driveway fantasy. On shots that hit nothing but net, over and over, and eight times over, as he said in the second game of the Cavaliers-Bulls playoff series. At the end of the third quarter Sunday, he showed that all that amazing stuff is still not over. Not by a long shot. 'If he can get a good look from 29 or 30 feet, I have confidence it's going in,' said Cavs coach Mike Brown after the 121-98 rout put the Cavs one victory from the second round. Perhaps Brown should revise that upward. James has hit shots from the speculative fringes of possibility during games. He hits underhanded shots from beyond halfcourt while warming up. He stopped the show on '60 Minutes' with an even longer one, made in just one take."

  • Mike Imrem of the Daily Herald: "Bulls fans can say they saw the greatest player ever to play the game of basketball. Sorry, no, not Michael Jordan. Not in 10 years or so. Not by the time LeBron James completes his career with the Cavaliers, some other NBA team or dare we say perhaps even the Bulls. There, I said it, and it's a relief to do so: King James eventually will succeed His Royal Airness as the best basketball player ever. If I didn't think that before, I did after watching the Cavaliers trounce the Bulls 121-98 in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference playoff series."

  • John Jackson of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The lone bright spot for the Bulls in the second half was center Joakim Noah, who had 17 points after halftime. He finished with 21 points and 20 rebounds to become the first Bull with a 20-20 game in the postseason. Noah, though, took little satisfaction in the feat because it was accomplished while the Bulls were falling 121-98 Sunday to the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 4 at the United Center. 'Not right now,' Noah said. 'Maybe once it's all over, but right now it's all about winning ballgames. That's what makes this city happy; that's what makes us happy at the end of the day.' Noah was 7-for-12 from the field, the only Bull to make at least half of his attempts other than Devin Brown, who was 1-for-1 in two garbage-time minutes."

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: "Barring an upset the Bulls seem incapable of pulling off in a building the Cavs have gone 37-6 in through the playoffs, their season will end late Tuesday night. Within days and possibly hours, so will Vinny Del Negro's tenure in Chicago. Nobody would be shocked if a peek at Bulls vice president of basketball operations John Paxson's weekly planner revealed something like this: Tuesday: Watch Bulls lose Game 5 during 'American Idol' commercials. Wednesday: Have GM Gar Forman fire Vinny. Thursday: Make sure Jerry Reinsdorf will let me hire the coach I want this time. Friday: Call Jeff Van Gundy. Bottom line, the next time Del Negro coaches on the bench in Chicago it will be for the Clippers or Nets or another team that hires recycled coaches. Whenever it comes, Del Negro has benefited from this experience enough to think he will get another opportunity to coach in the NBA."

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: "Two of the men in the power seats of Miami sports -- Heat president Pat Riley and Dolphins coach Tony Sparano -- sat side-by-side in the third row, chatting amiably throughout the Heat's season-saving victory over the Celtics on Sunday afternoon. In the end, though, important as they are, they were just two more witnesses. Two more fans who could only shake their heads at what they were seeing. It's nothing new to Riley, but can it ever get old? Does it ever stop feeling like magic? This Heat season was all but expired Sunday, and then something remarkable happened. Dwyane Wade happened. Again. 'Another chapter,' Wade would deadpan later. Miami stayed alive in this NBA first-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics with a 101-92 triumph in the bayside arena, and it happened because Wade made it so, with fourth-quarter heroics that would see him end with 46 points. I'm glad Sparano was there, too. It seemed somehow fitting, because I think an invisible baton has passed. It has always been Dan Marino down here. The Dolphins' Hall of Fame quarterback always has been where you start when discussing the greatest South Florida athlete. Things have changed. It is time. From Sunday forward, start with Wade. Make it unequivocal, and say it without hesitation."

  • Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: "The word 'superstar’ is so often misused, abused, and misconstrued. Well, hear this: Dwyane Wade is a superstar. In seven games against the Celtics this season, he has had 27, 44, 30, 26, 29, 34, and now 46 points. The only viable 'strategy’ they have against him is to get the ball out of his hands, and this is something they could not accomplish when it most mattered yesterday."

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "Dwyane Wade was the player of the game. That is not up for debate after he scored 46 points in Sunday's 101-92 victory over the Boston Celtics. But the play of the game? That might have belonged to Miami Heat power forward Michael Beasley. Up 96-85 with 4:43 to play, the Heat saw its lead trimmed to 96-92 with 2:36 left. That's when Beasley stepped up with the type of play that shows why he was so coveted for his skills at the top of the 2008 NBA Draft. With teammate Dorell Wright hoisting an airball on an 18-foot attempt with four seconds left on the shot clock, Beasley swooped in from beneath the basket and in one motion flipped in a reverse layup with two seconds left on the shot clock for a 98-92 lead. The Celtics would draw no closer. 'I didn't even know I shot it,' Beasley said of his attempt to merely redirect the ball back toward the rim to avoid a 24-second violation. So it was an accidental basket? 'It's a made bucket, so it don't matter,' Beasley said, after closing with 15 points and five rebounds."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "When a Lamborghini starts riding a little rough, something is definitely out of kilter. The same applies to Ray Allen’s free throw shooting. When the Celtics guard, one of the greatest in league history from the line, misses three straight in the last 2:36 of a playoff game with his team trailing by four points, it’s time to bring the car in for a fresh alignment. That’s what he’ll be doing today in preparation for tomorrow night’s Game 5 against Miami at the Garden. 'I felt like I had a bad rhythm,' Allen said yesterday after the C’s dropped a 101-92 decision to the Heat in Game 4. 'The ball just looks on line and it catches a bad part of the rim. I look at it as a fluke. Sometimes I’m just unlucky. I just have to get back in there and shoot a couple hundred.' Indeed, Allen has shot so many hundreds of free throws over the years, he can’t remember the last time he missed three in a game. 'I don’t know when, but I’ve done it before,' he said."

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: "After carrying an NBA franchise and the basketball dreams of a city on his shoulders for seven long years, Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony is beginning to show the strain. How much more of this can Melo take? In a 117-106 loss to Utah that put the Nuggets on the brink of elimination from the playoffs, Denver looked like the same frustrating franchise it has been for most of Anthony's career. If Melo can't do it, nobody can. 'I'm trying, I'm trying to beat them. I'm trying to do everything I can in my power to beat the Jazz,' Anthony said Sunday. 'But, at the end of the day, I need some help. I'm not sitting here pointing fingers or nothing. As a unit, we've got to do this together. I can't do this by myself.' The strain of having to do it all for a Nuggets team that doesn't have the right stuff erupted late in the first half, when Anthony loudly chastised teammate Chris Andersen on the bench for taking an ill-advised outside jump shot that clanked."

  • Dirk Facer of the Deseret News: "How pivotal was Game 4 between the Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets? History says Utah's 3-1 advantage is almost insurmountable. Only eight teams in 393 NBA playoff series have ever rallied from such a deficit. Even so, neither coach is taking anything for granted. In their pregame remarks to the media, Jerry Sloan of Utah and acting Denver coach Adrian Dantley declined to acknowledge that Sunday's winner has an edge. 'No. I don't pay any attention to that,' Sloan said. 'You just have to try to go one game at a time. That's about as far as I can go.' In other words, it's not over until it's over."

  • Gordon Monson of The Salt Lake Tribune: "It was not technically a matter of elimination, but for the Denver Nuggets, Sunday night's Game 4 might as well have been. If they rolled out a third consecutive loss to the Jazz, both momentum and history would become their enemies. Coming back from a 3-1 playoff deficit? Forget about it. Only eight teams have ever done it. They will not be the ninth. The Nuggets lost to the Jazz, 117-106, at EnergySolutions Arena. And now they'll pay the price. Denver is done. The main concern for the Nuggets was showing up, playing hard, and playing together, something one would have supposed them to have figured out by now. Not exactly. The Jazz certainly had. Game 4 played out, then, too much like Game 3, and that would have been pitiable news for the Nuggets -- if they weren't the ones writing their own script. They took an early lead, again, and lost it, again. They trailed 54-45 at the half, and lost the second one, 63-61, falling behind at one point by 20. In the first two quarters, they heaved the ball all over the gym, shooting ill-advised shots, and making just 37 percent of them. In the second, they tried to make up the difference. The Jazz, on the other hand, happily shared the ball throughout, shooting advised shots, making 53 percent overall."