First Cup: Thursday

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: "Keep counting 'em out, all you NBA experts. These Milwaukee Bucks will just keep fighting to the end. The Atlanta Hawks found that out the hard way on Wednesday night in Game 5 of the teams' Eastern Conference series, as the Bucks got off the mat to grab a stunning 91-87 victory at Philips Arena. The Bucks have won three straight games against the third-seeded Hawks while taking a 3-2 lead in the first-round series, and Milwaukee can eliminate Atlanta in Game 6, scheduled for Friday night at the Bradley Center. Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova showed his trademark hustle while grabbing offensive rebounds, and Milwaukee went on a dazzling 14-0 run in the final 4 minutes to erase an 82-73 deficit and end the Hawks' 14-game home winning streak. 'This is by far the biggest win of the season,' said Bucks guard John Salmons. 'We've still got business to take care of, so we've got to stay with it.' "

  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: "This is no time to quibble about details. Outside of the Milwaukee Bucks' overpowering run to the 1971 NBA championship, the 4-minute finish Wednesday night was, without question, the greatest stretch in franchise history. Are you kidding? Down by nine points in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series in a building where the third-seeded Atlanta Hawks almost never lose and, indeed, had won 14 straight? Down by as many as 13 in the third quarter? Without Andrew Bogut - or really any center for brutally long stretches, for that matter -- with everything going against them in a game that overwhelmingly favored the Hawks' bigger, stronger bodies? 'We battled back as we have so many times and got one,' Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. But never one quite like this one."

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "This was the Falcons blowing the lead against Danny White and Dallas in January 1981. This was Mark Wohlers hanging the slider to Jim Leyritz in October 1996. Only it wasn’t. It was worse. Those opponents were top-class. The Hawks just blew a 13-point lead and probably a playoff series to Milwaukee, which is a No. 6 seed missing its All-Star center. They trail 3-2 in a series they led 2-0. They face elimination on the road, a place they’ve won once in 11 tries over the past three postseasons. Yeah, theoretically they could still pull this out, but how can you win in the Bradley Center when you can’t hold a nine-point lead inside the final four minutes with the series lead on the line? How can you put this colossal choke -- I hate that word, but it applies here -- behind you? Up nine, and here’s what happened: Josh Smith missed a dunk by hitting the ball on the underside of the backboard; Jamal Crawford short-armed a layup, the first of his five misses down the stretch; the Hawks watched as Ersan Ilyasova grabbed every loose ball and Joe Johnson fouled out on a charge. Nine points up with 3:55 left, the Hawks saw the lead disappear in 116 seconds. I say again: One hundred sixteen seconds. There are no excuses for this game, this series. The team with the better players is the one with one foot out the exit door. The Bucks have two chances to win once. The Hawks are down to their final shot."

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: "Maybe we should throw confetti or hold a parade. In a 116-102 victory against Utah on Wednesday, the Nuggets tried something completely different: They gave a professional effort. So let them eat Twinkies. But please understand: Denver absolutely, positively cannot win a championship this way. And team management knows it. This season cannot end soon enough, because team officials privately admit this NBA franchise has much work to do. If nothing will satisfy Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke except being No. 1, then he faces the most difficult decisions he's had since purchasing the franchise a decade ago. What will make it so hard? There is much to like about these Nuggets, from the nearly unstoppable scoring of Carmelo Anthony to the unflappable leadership of Chauncey Billups to the snarling intensity of Kenyon Martin. But, in its soft heart, Denver is a basketball team that wants to win pretty. On a Wednesday night that gave a raucous crowd in the Pepsi Center one more chance to get up and dance, the Nuggets avoided elimination, but the beauty of the victory was no more than skin-deep."

  • Ross Siler of The Salt Lake Tribune: "Did the Jazz just blow their best chance to close out the Nuggets, taking a two-point lead into halftime after Denver lost Nene to a sprained knee in the first half? Did the Jazz just watch the Nuggets come back to life in this series with that 66-point second half? Did the Jazz’s numbers finally catch up to them after playing three inspired games without Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur? The trouble with the Game 5 loss is that the only answer to all these questions is maybe/maybe not. We’ll know more once we see how the Jazz recover in Friday’s Game 6 back at EnergySolutions Arena. Just don’t bring up how they fared the last time they played what everyone thought was the biggest game of the season on their home court. That was the Phoenix collapse, of course, when Carlos Boozer and Kirilenko didn’t play and the Jazz shot 37.5 percent and trailed by as many as 23 points. That was the game that left them facing the Nuggets in this series in the first place."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "Portland forward Nicolas Batum called him 'dirty' after Game 3, during which Amare Stoudemire threw an elbow at Portland power forward LaMarcus Aldridge on a rebound tussle. He received a Flagrant Foul 1 the next day. Batum accused Stoudemire of a cheap-shot elbow to his injured shoulder in a testy Game 4, after which Stoudemire said he was adjusting his goggles. Stoudemire has been painted as the series villain in Portland, a role reversal for the man who once accused Bruce Bowen of a playoff cheap shot. 'Phoenix Suns, dirty players,' Suns coach Alvin Gentry said, chuckling. 'Wow, we've come a long ways. Amar'e's not a dirty player. He's not even close to being a dirty player and neither do I think that anybody on their team is a dirty player. It's the same thing that happens in any playoff series. When you play somebody five times, there's going to be a little snippiness.' Stoudemire is the thorn in the side of Rose City. Blazers fans will breathe fire on him Thursday night. 'That's fine,' Stoudemire said. 'I love it. It definitely gets me riled up. I play better that way. It's the playoffs. Both teams have been physical. They're loud but it doesn't bother me. When you're home, it's great because your fans are with you. When you're away, it's almost a little bit better to me because they're loud and they're against you. It motivates me. When you win, it feels great.' "

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: "There is no margin for error today, so he'll have to arrive well prepared. And in Game 6 for the Trail Blazers he'll need to be acutely focused. And also, he'll need to make great decisions on the floor. Yup, coach Nate McMillan is the big key today. What? You expected Brandon Roy here? Roy will get a post-surgery start for the Blazers today, and said all the right things after the announcement of that development. But there isn't a bigger performance on either side of this series right now than the one McMillan will give. Sure, the Blazers need Roy to have enough left. Yes, LaMarcus Aldridge will need to establish himself on the offensive end of the floor. Absolutely, Marcus Camby and Nic Batum's ability to play through injury is paramount to Portland forcing a Game 7. But if you're looking for the guy who holds the keys to the rest of this series, it's the Blazers coach. McMillan has been outcoached through five games of the series by Phoenix's Alvin Gentry. The Blazers have paid for that, and so McMillan must be better than he's been in any portion of this series so far."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "What is clearer is that Manu Ginobili hasn't been the same since Dirk Nowitzki took a chisel and altered a Michelangelo-inspired creation. The Spurs haven't been the same, either. So that brings Ginobili to tonight, to a game he has won so many times before, with questions whether he is up to this. The answer should be as plain as the You Know What on his face. At least this fits into a pattern. In 2002, in the World Championships, Ginobili collided with an opponent, severely sprained his ankle and missed the rest of that tournament. The opponent? Nowitzki. Less than a year later, in the Western Conference finals, Nowitzki bumped into an opponent, fell to the floor and missed the rest of that series. The opponent? Ginobili. These men should have learned to give the other wide berth."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "Eddie Najera is gum on the Spurs' shoe, the piece of popcorn stuck in their teeth. Bothersome, he is. And that's the way he and the Mavericks like it. But he doesn't want to be known as an enforcer in this series, even if he's one flagrant foul away from being suspended for a game. 'No, my role has been basically an energy guy,' he said. 'I like playing that type of basketball. I like being aggressive. I don't really care about the offense we play. If somebody is pushing you around, obviously you have to retaliate and stand your ground and play that game as well without getting out of hand.' The Spurs probably would contend Najera got out of hand with hard fouls against Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker in the last two games. He received a flagrant-two against Ginobili and a flagrant-one against Parker. That's three flagrant points. Any player who accrues four flagrant points is automatically suspended one game. The Mavericks understand this but also know that's part of Najera's charm."

  • Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times: "For those who suggested that doom awaited the Lakers in the absence of a healthy Kobe Bryant -- OK, for me -- Game 5 against the Thunder was an eye-opener, and that's after 13 years of eye-openers, one more amazing than the next one. After pulling all those rabbits out of hats, Bryant came up with the all-timer in Tuesday's Game 5: He reached into his hat and pulled out Kobe Bryant. Taking what he had left -- a sore knee that felt good, if not good enough to explode off -- Bryant reinvented himself, becoming the playmaker who ran the Lakers offense and the defensive scourge who shut down Russell Westbrook and the Thunder offense. Of course, being Kobe, he said he could have scored 50 as easily, but thought it better to involve Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum ('If I didn't have Pau, Andrew... I'd score 45, 50 points and everybody would say, ‘Damn, he shoots too much.' ') Actually, given Bryant's limits, what he did Tuesday was incredible. The real story, according to Lakers sources, is that they don't know how good Kobe will feel game to game, and, said one, 'Neither does he.' "

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: "The son played while his parents watched from the stands. Except it was Kobe Bryant's mom and dad, sitting right at the end of the Lakers' bench, and it put everything in a new, old perspective. There was Joe Bryant early in the game, sitting with a half-cocked head tilt and his chin tucked pensively in his hand. Same exact pose that Kobe presents much of the time. Pam Bryant watched a little later as Kobe protested a foul call right in front of the Lakers' bench. She also shook her head in disagreement with the call, but as she watched her youngest jumping up and down and making faces at the ref, a smile started to creep across her face. It was a reminder: Kobe Bryant is, even now, a little boy living his dream."

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: "Scott Brooks, Oklahoma City’s Coach of the Year, is on the clock. Following Tuesday night’s 111-87 blowout in Game 5 at Staples Center, the Thunder is now on life support in these playoffs. The Lakers own a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 is Friday night inside the Ford Center. And now, it’s really 'win or go home' time. That’s where Brooks comes in. The Thunder’s coach must return the volley that Lakers coach Phil Jackson swatted across court two nights ago, effectively changing the face of this series. Jackson neutralized the Thunder’s biggest playmaking threat Tuesday when he sicced perennial pest Bryant on Russell Westbrook. It was a move that disrupted the Thunder’s entire offense and resulted in yet another poor start for Oklahoma City. Whatever adjustments Brooks makes Friday seemingly must begin there."

  • Darnell Mayberry and Mike Baldwin of The Oklahoman: "While interviewing Kevin Durant before Tuesday’s game, a Los Angeles-area reporter mentioned Durant’s and Russell Westbrook’s names after two of the greatest duos not only in Lakers history, but in all of NBA history. Durant politely listened to the list. Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. The reporter then sought Durant’s opinion on whether the Thunder’s duo is headed for the same status. 'Nah, don’t put us up there with those guys,' Durant said. 'We’re doing alright. We’re doing OK, but those guys are legends, champions. So you can’t put us up there with them. It’s cool for you to say that, but at the same time we’re nowhere near that level as far as duos are concerned. Quite frankly, we don’t really consider ourselves as a duo. It’s a whole team. But for you to say that is pretty cool.' "

  • Joe Davidson of The Sacramento Bee: "A year ago, the Kings felt luckless, smarting from a league-high 65 losses and then managing only the fourth pick despite the best odds to garner the top pick. And now? 'We're ecstatic,' Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof said. 'When we found out that we got the fourth pick, we thought it was catastrophic, but we got the best player in the draft. The 'Little Man' did it. We would have hung 'Little Man' otherwise.' Only Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James had achieved the 20-5-5 in their first seasons, and only James and Kobe Bryant averaged those numbers this season. After Evans joined that elite club, the Kings printed '20-5-5 Goal Accomplished' T-shirts and put them up for sale April 12. They sold out in 10 minutes. The Kings will market their new shining star – the franchise's first major award winner since Bobby Jackson was named Sixth Man of the Year in 2003 -- with promotional packages and personal appearances, said Kings vice president of marketing and communications Mitch Germann."