First Cup: Wednesday

  • Bill Livingston of The Plain Dealer: "LeBron James stood in black compression shorts with padding on the thighs. He pulled on a black undershirt, also padded at the ribs. He wore a white sleeve with padding on his right elbow too. In the jousts of the playoffs, you can never have enough armor. 'How's the elbow?' someone asked. He hurt his right elbow in Game 4, but it was, he said, a 'tweak.' He was OK, he said. It looked like more than a tweak Tuesday night. He did not look all that OK, even at The Q. That is where MVP chants, with every man, woman and child standing 'All Together,' usually cures what ails any Cavalier. Tuesday, James looked more resourceful than regal in a 96-94 victory. It gave the Cavs a hard-fought 4-1 series victory. He gutted out a near-triple double, with 19 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. A clear indication of his injury problems was that he took only 12 shots, only three in the first half. In the final 7.8 seconds, after he buried his first free throw to make the lead 96-92 -- or two Chicago possessions -- he tried his second free throw left-handed. 'Apparently, he wanted to take a timeout to get his elbow stretched or looked at,' said coach Mike Brown. 'I did not pick up on it at the time, so he shot the free throw left-handed.' "

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: "For the Bulls to maximize the experience of these playoffs, the Bulls need to make the Cavs a common villain, whoever the coach is. They need to make everything about overcoming the Cavs the way the late-1980s Jordan Bulls made everything about getting past the Pistons. Then put together a team in the next three months good enough to dethrone the King. You're up, John Paxson. Get loose, Gar Forman. And while the Bulls' front office officials are huddling, it would be appropriate to hear from Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf about the dysfunction that he has allowed to fester in his organization without any public rebuke. Vinny Del Negro? He only let his guard down once while addressing his future when the wrong choice of pronoun provided a hint of where his mind goes when thinking about how the Bulls can build off this postseason. 'To get back here in the playoffs to get them some more experience is a plus and I think will bode well for the future for them,' Del Negro said. For them. Not us. We all are ready for the next phase for the Bulls, when the beasts in the East take them seriously again."

  • Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: "The Not Quite So Big Three stepped up and erased the Heatand the locals’ anxiety in barely two minutes. They took over the game at the moment it seemed to be becoming one. It was fitting on such a night that Ray Allen began Miami’s demise with a wide open 3-point jumper because he led the Celtics with 24 points and was 5-of-6 from 3-point range. It was symbolic and more than a little relieving that he did not stand alone. Right after Allen’s 25-foot jump shot, Kevin Garnett hit a 17-footer, Paul Pierce followed with a twisting drive to the basket and then Garnett hit another 20-footer. Suddenly, the Celtics had the lead back to 12 with six minutes to go and isn’t that what the three of them were here to do?"

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "The game. The season. All over. The pain kept going. Udonis Haslem grimaced while limping past the throng of reporters waiting outside the Celtics locker room to interview the victorious coach. He limped into the X-ray room. He limped, like his team, into the summer. And so this franchise goes, following a 96-86 loss that finished a five-game series that few figured would go any further. So the Heat goes, from a bridge season into a deep, dark sea of uncertainty. Ready or not. 'Let me go take one last look,' Dwyane Wade said, as he finally rose from his chair, and walked toward the locker room bathroom mirror to check his appearance for his postgame news conference. Did we just take one last look ourselves? Was this the last time we'll see him in a Heat jersey, the one he removed before ever reaching the tunnel? And, if he does return, what will his teammates look like? And that's just it. We don't know anything. Not yet. The good news from this season is that the players on the roster put aside their respective contract situations and made a late run to make the 2009-10 season respectable, watchable, bearable. The bad news, at least for the impatient among us, is that absolutely nothing got resolved, and especially the two things that mattered most on a team otherwise filled with short-timers: Wade's future. And the Michael Beasley riddle."

  • Vincent Bonsignore of of the Los Angeles Daily News: "When in doubt, a little levity never hurts. So there was Phil Jackson before Game 5 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City cracking one-liners, making fun of the bright color of a reporter's tie, even joking he was so unconcerned about how the Lakers would approach the suddenly best-of-3 series against a young, hungry opponent, he'd probably just stay in the locker room Tuesday and watch another game. It was unusual, to be sure, but with Jackson there is always a reason behind what he does. This time, he was an easy read. Jackson was sensing a city on edge and a team on the brink, so he went all Jerry Seinfeld on everyone trying to get them to relax. But seriously, folks, he basically said during his pre-game stand-up act, it's time for everyone to chill out, take a deep breath and loosen up a little bit. 'It's a lot of concern, there is no doubt about it,' Jackson said of the disposition of Los Angeles, not to mention his team. 'So I've been lightening the mood.' It was pure genius, in a Dane Cook sort of way. The Lakers, feeding off Jackson's don't-worry-be-happy routine, came out relaxed but hungry, taking with them a sort of mischievous desperation to the court."

  • Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "A leopard can never change its spots and the Lakers can't reinvent themselves either it seems. It turns out, that's OK. A year after the Lakers ebbed and flowed through the playoffs, being dubbed a 'Jekyll and Hyde' team by their coach, Phil Jackson and 'bipolar' by their star, Kobe Bryant, the purple and gold are back on the seesaw. As the Lakers chase their repeat championship, the only way to enjoy the sequel is embrace the highs when they come -- and they will come -- and stomach the lows that are sure to be interspersed along the way. Rather than wondering why Los Angeles can't look as thoroughly dominating every game as it did in its 111-87 Game 5 victory Tuesday, Lakers fans should merely accept this team for what it is: A squad that will make it to the Finals as long as it wins all of its home games; a team one win away from advancing to the second round, when two of the other three higher-seeded teams in the West trail in their first-round series; a group that bends as much as the Russian women's gymnastics team, but never breaks. If there's anything to learn from this team, it's to enjoy the ride."

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: "Something woke up the Lakers. Maybe the tricks of wise old Phil Jackson. Maybe the sky-is-falling attitude of Laker fans on LA radio. Maybe the ringing in their ears from that jet-engine Ford Center crowd three nights earlier. Maybe the gold megaphones handed out to fans to encourage a little counter noise to the Oklahoma City phenomenon. Whatever it was, it goes in the alarm clock hall of fame. The Lakers awakened with no blur in their eyes or stagger in their step. In routing the Thunder 111-87 Tuesday night at the Staples Center, they looked like the Lakers of old, as opposed to the old Lakers. 'We got our butts kicked,' said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. 'There’s no way around it. They outplayed us from the opening tip to the end of the game.' The Lakers avalanched the Thunder from the opening tip, which is nothing new in this series. But unlike Games 1-3, the Thunder never recovered."

  • Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "Despite the desperate circumstances, there was no Calling Out the Dogs before Game 5. The hounds-in-question probably already knew who they were. And, besides, coach Gregg Popovich played that motivational card on his Spurs -- to visible perfection -- after Game 1. The third period. That's when everyone knew Tuesday night that the Dallas Mavericks would either roar ... or bark. In the third quarter Sunday in San Antonio, the Spurs held the Mavericks -- with more than a little help from the Mavericks themselves -- to a telltale 11 points. But change the venue and heighten the desperation. And turn Caron Butler loose. Down three games to one Tuesday night, the Mavericks controlled the tempo and the want-to from the start. They outscored the Spurs 29-18 in a dominating third period, expanding their halftime lead to 18 points. Most importantly they earned the right to play another day -- Thursday, back in San Antonio -- with a 103-81 victory, largely behind Butler's 35 points."

  • Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com: "Rick Carlisle didn’t need to deliver a pep talk before Game 5. He just pressed play on the video. The message came through loud and clear to the Dallas Mavericks as they watched clip after clip of the San Antonio Spurs kicking their butts on hustle plays throughout the series. 'That can’t happen tonight,' Carlisle told his team. The Mavs responded by roughing up the Spurs, dictating the style of play while rolling to a 103-81 rout that extended their season and sent the series back to San Antonio. This series isn’t about X’s and O’s. It’s about blood and guts. The Spurs bullied the Mavs too often -- and at too many critical times -- during the previous three games. No way were the Mavs going to just sit back and get punked on their home court Tuesday night, which would have resulted in roars about the same ol’ soft Dallas squad. 'Pride was definitely on the line,' said big man Brendan Haywood, who made his presence felt with eight rebounds and four blocked shots in his first start of the playoffs. Forget about strategy. The main adjustments made by the Mavs -- other than benching Erick Dampier for Haywood -- came from the toughness department."

  • William C. Rhoden of The New York Times: "Dear LeBron: On Monday many of us watched the young Charlotte Bobcats fight the good fight before falling to the Orlando Magic in a first-round sweep. Charlotte was the young kid with a big heart fighting the playground bully and holding his own. Ultimately, the bully was too big and the Bobcats were not good enough. Charlotte was missing one piece, LeBron: you. For the last two years the world has been advising you about where to play next season -- or where to stay. Where can you make the greatest impact? Where can you make the most dollars? Where? In Charlotte, N.C., where Michael Jordan, your basketball hero, is majority owner. ... Last year you said that you wanted to honor his legacy. You proposed that the N.B.A. retire his No. 23. ... Forget the number, LeBron. The greatest tribute you could pay him -- dollars notwithstanding -- is joining forces with him next season and creating a dynasty in Charlotte. The two of you could forge a powerful alliance and achieve in an unprecedented way."

  • Frank Zicarelli of the Toronto Sun: "Rasheed Wallace rips the refs and gets hit in the wallet. Matt Barnes goes off by going public in his condemnation of officials. Erick Dampier airs his beefs and gets whacked in the pocket. Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy express a dissenting voice and are puzzled at the punishment. As the NBA’s first round of the post-season makes way for the conference semi-finals, David Stern has set the bar when it comes to players and coaches griping about officials. No pun intended, but Stern has been quite stern in his stance, a position that must be applauded because players and coaches are simply out of control. If anything, he should do even more and has stated a desire to suspend players who verbally lambaste an official. Judging by how little a deterrent fines have served, a suspension is precisely what’s required. Then and only then will players and coaches begin to understand the folly of their ways."

  • David Hinojosa of Valley Freedom Newspapers: "The celebration began the instant Craig Winder’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer banked in to give the Rio Grande Valley Vipers a 94-91 victory and the franchise’s first-ever NBA D-League championship. The Vipers won the best-of-three series in two games. League president Dan Reed handed the D-League championship trophy to the Vipers’ principal owner, Alonzo Cantu, on the team’s home floor at State Farm Arena, where most of the record crowd of 6,198 had stayed to celebrate. 'It means a lot,' said Winder, a University of Texas product who has been with the Vipers in each of their three seasons of existence. 'Mr. Cantu stuck with it even if we started off slow the first two years. We stuck with it and kept on going with it.' ... It was a good 45 minutes before Vipers star forward Mike Harris finally made it into the locker room to celebrate with his team. Harris was mobbed by fans right after the trophy presentation. He then did a series of interviews for print, television and radio. Vipers point guard Will Conroy came out of the locker room to the arena with a champagne bottle in hand. 'Yo, Mike,' he shouted. 'Come celebrate in the locker room with us.' In the locker room, players and coaches sprayed each other with champagne. Then, they sprayed anyone who walked into the locker room -- television cameramen, reporters, team managers."