First Cup: Monday

  • Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: "The Big Three owe The Little One big time because yesterday he was Big Time. Were it not for the peerless four quarters played by Rajon Rondo at the Garden, the Cleveland Cavaliers might well be at home tomorrow night holding a 3-1 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal playoffs. They are not because the smallest man on the floor was the biggest man in the game, a fact the biggest man in the league grudgingly acknowledged after Rondo finished off his Cavs. 'He does everything for them,' LeBron James said after Rondo had 29 points, a playoff career-high 18 rebounds and 13 assists in a 97-87 Celtics victory that evened the series at 2-2. 'They may be one of the oldest teams but Rondo is one of the youngest players in the playoffs. His quickness and his speed get them out on the break and he creates for himself and creates for others. It doesn’t matter if those guys are running with him or not, I think it starts with Rondo. He’s kind of their energy. 'His performance was unbelievable. Rondo was definitely the difference maker. He plays much bigger than what he looks.' Yesterday he looked like Magic Johnson and played like Oscar Robertson. He scored like LeBron James and rebounded like Wilt Chamberlain. He passed like Bob Cousy and ran the team like Gen. Patton."

  • Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: "Call them The Other Three. After the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied from a double-digit deficit to tie the Celtics late in the third quarter of Sunday's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Boston sent out a lineup that featured reserves Tony Allen, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace supplementing Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce. That's not exactly a trio that strikes fear into the hearts of opponents. Yet with Boston playing what amounted to a must-win game, the Celtics leaned on those three for perhaps the most important stretch of the 2009-10 season. And all Allen, Davis and Wallace did was spark a 12-0 run that spanned into the fourth quarter as the Celtics pulled off a 97-87 triumph that tied the series at two games apiece as it shifts back to Cleveland. Allen racked up 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting and finished a team-best plus-14 in the plus-minus category. Davis chipped in five points and three rebounds, while providing the type of energy that statistics can't measure. Wallace overcame four first-half fouls to be a defensive presence and, despite not making a single shot, was dubbed 'amazing' by coach Doc Rivers. 'Our bench is huge for us, we can't win without them,' said Pierce, whose continued struggles were offset largely by the play of the reserves. 'We said it from the start of the series, we need different guys on different nights. [In Game 2], Rasheed stepped up. Tonight, it was Tony Allen and Big Baby. It's going to have to come from a number of guys on any given night, but we have to have it.' "

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "LeBron James said it might be time for the Cavs to 'explore' having himguard Rondo since Rondo's vanquished Mo Williams and a second-look at Anthony Parker didn't work as well as the first. That's nice of him. None of the above matters that much as to whether the Cavs will win the series with the Celtics. Oh, it will be written and talked about a great deal over the next couple of days. I'll probably address some of those issues more in depth. There's merit and analysis in there to be done. But all of it is secondary to the bigger issue the Cavs have created for themselves with an up-and-down four-game set thus far. It is still unclear whether the Cavs have within them the desire to win 10 more games. Sometimes it looks like a 'yes' but quite often it looks like a 'no.' Most people, including yours truly, picked the Cavs to win this series in six games. That meant they would lose at least two. So for them to be at 2-2 is understandable. In reality, they did what they had to do this weekend and came home with the homecourt advantage back. Heck, Shaq and Parker both had pretty good games and getting the big man going has the potentially to pay off farther down the road. But beyond the tension over playing time, how to matchup with Rondo and the positives is the fact that the Cavs aren't playing like a team that intends to advance. Maybe not even a team that wants to advance. The Celtics did not play a great game on Sunday. They had the best player but collectively the Cavs executed nearly as well. In Game 2, the Celtics played very well as a team. It was understandable the Cavs lost that one. Not this time."

  • Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: "Revenge was on the menu. Revenge is best served with a broom. Dig in, Phoenix. The Spurs are gone, whisked to the curb. So are the San Antonio scars. And while Steve Nash came home in stitches, the Suns emerged from a bruising closeout game with a 107-101 victory, leaving a world of emotional hurt in the rearview mirror. 'They've caused us a lot of heartache,' Suns forward Jared Dudley said. 'The city (of Phoenix) needed this. This kind of gives us some validation, that this team is for real.' At long last, good fortune has rained down on the Suns. Nearly dismantled at the trade deadline, they are growing stronger with each victory and have already exceeded all expectations. The Lakers may well be next but, please, forget about Kobe for a minute. Take some time to savor this. All the hurt that once came with cheering for the Suns evaporated on a chaotic night in Texas. The symbolism was profound."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "The Spurs have only lost to two other franchises since they won their first championship in 1999. And they never felt this way about the Lakers or Mavericks. Still, even as the Spurs praised the Suns and admitted they were beaten at nearly every area, the franchise is steadily moving away from its championship era. The Spurs have now won one playoff series in two years. But the Suns also showed the Spurs what is possible. They were coming apart with the same salary-cap issues, and they found magic. The Spurs will need to be lucky if they are to find their own Jared Dudley or Channing Frye. But George Hill and DeJuan Blair should be better next year. Duncan has reached a manageable plateau, and Ginobili will come back without a bandage on his nose and Tony Parker without bandages everywhere else. Given that, can the Spurs still contend? 'I think so,' Ginobili said. He'd just seen how."

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Believe it or not, I do read your comments. Regarding the Hawks, your prevailing sentiment -- after the one that goes, 'Fire Woody' -- is that the team should let Joe Johnson leave and sign Dwyane Wade (or Chris Bosh, or somebody) to replace him. Sounds easy, I admit. But it wouldn’t be. Here’s why. Wade works for the Miami Heat, which is owned by Micky Arison, who could buy and sell all the Atlanta Spirit partners put together. (Arison owns Carnival Cruise Lines.) The team is run by Pat Riley, who has won five NBA titles and who’s thinking about coaching again. Together, Arison and Riley and Wade won the 2006 NBA title, so they know it can be done there. If you’re D-Wade, why take a flier on the Hawks, who haven’t reached the conference finals since 1970 and who had the lowest payroll of any of the 16 playoff teams this season? ... I say again: You might not like the way Johnson plays -- I myself soured on Iso-Joe last season -- but you can’t deny he puts up big numbers. He’s not Kobe or D-Wade, but he’s the third-best shooting guard in the league. Unless the Hawks can find someone better, they’re better off sticking with Joe. And they won’t find anyone better."

  • Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "No team has come back from 3-0 down in a series, and that’s where the Hawks stand in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Orlando. But there will be a Game 4 at Philips Arena on Monday, and people are putting on brave faces. 'Until I am eliminated, I am not eliminated,' Hawks coach Mike Woodson said. 'That is just how I am as a coach.' The Hawks insist they will give a better effort in Game 4 than they did on Saturday and for the rest of the series. They were booed by their fans throughout Game 3."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Where is Spirit when it's needed most? 'I sorta miss that bird,' Hawks forward Josh Smith says. The bird's name, in case you haven't guessed, is Spirit -- the real, live hawk mascot that used to be an integral part of the team before its fateful flight during the playoffs last year. During introductions before an opening-round playoff game with the Miami Heat, Spirit, as usual, was released from the rafters so he could fly to his trainer down on the court. But something went wrong -- bad wrong. Spirit got distracted, ignored his trainer, veered off course and landed on the scoreboard. And then he flew around the arena while the game was being played far below. And then he landed on a railing and prevented frightened fans from getting to their seats. And, finally, he perched on top of the backboard and scared the bejabbers out of the players, many of whom ran for cover. ... Sadly, that was the end of Spirit's basketball career. The hawk was permanently benched and even given a Van Gundy-like verbal reprimand by NBA Commissioner David Stern, who said at the time, 'I'm not excited about the Hawks having a bird that's not well-behaved.' Now Spirit spends his days in exile at the Atlanta zoo, where Sentinel photographer Gary Green and I went in search of him Sunday. True story: We were rebuked by several zoo employees who said they were not permitted to speak to the media. When we tried to question one employee about Spirit's whereabouts, all she would say is, 'I just clean up monkey poop.' What was the ugly truth they were hiding? Only after going undercover were we able to piece together the real story. Spirit, it seems, has been put in an ornithological witness protection program. He no longer goes by the name of 'Spirit' but by the alias of either 'Tahoe' or 'Alamo.' "

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "The way the Orlando Magic watched film Sunday, you might have thought that they had lost Game 3 to the Atlanta Hawks by 30 points instead of won it by 30. Coach Stan Van Gundy convened his players for a longer-than-normal video review session before they hit Philips Arena's main court for practice. 'When I went back and watched the film last night -- I told them this today -- our defense wasn't nearly as good as I had thought during the game,' Van Gundy said. 'But we also, again, wanted to make some offensive adjustments against some of the things they're doing.' The Magic held the Hawks to 34.9 percent shooting in the 105-75 Game 3 victory. So, what was there to improve? 'I thought we were a little disorganized at times in terms of our post defense and where we wanted our help to come from and what we wanted to do on the weak side,' Van Gundy said. 'And I thought we were inconsistent in our pick-and-roll defense on the ball.' He also didn't like Atlanta's 23 second-chance points. Vince Carter said the film did, indeed, show some defensive breakdowns. He said he and his teammates compensated for their breakdowns through the sheer force of their effort."

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "The Lakers have done plenty in their rich playoff history, winning 15 championships and appearing in 30 NBA Finals, results any franchise not named the Celtics would gladly accept. But for all their parades and champagne-dousing moments, one thing they don't often do is sweep. The Lakers are in position to do it Monday against Utah, holding a 3-0 series lead in the Western Conference semifinals, one victory from only their 13th sweep in 100 best-of-seven series since their 1948-49 inception. It would do wonders for their aches and pains, creating several days before their next game, and it would lead to the inevitable, quickly and quietly: No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series. Game 5 is scheduled for Wednesday, if necessary. The Lakers hope it's not, even though it would mean a windfall of about $1.5 million for another home playoff game. 'You extend a series, ankles can get turned, muscles can get pulled, groins, things like that,' Kobe Bryant said. 'When you have the ability to put the nail in the coffin, it's imperative that you do it.' "

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: "Pau Gasol, a 7-foot Spaniard with a soft touch on his perimeter jump shots and a snarl on his face while in the paint, is one of the main reasons the Lakers are poised to eliminate the Utah Jazz going into Game 4 of their second-round series tonight. He is averaging 20.3 points and 14.7 rebounds during the series against the Jazz and 18.8 points and 13 rebounds in nine playoff games overall, which is up from his regular-season averages of 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds. 'He's been terrific in this series," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Gasol, who had 14 points and 17 rebounds during the Lakers' victory in Game 3 on Saturday. 'There's a feeling that if he doesn't get to score, his game falls off sometimes. (Saturday), I thought his game stayed consistent. He got some rebounds. He was helping to cover the lane. He took the ball down the court. I tell our guys all the time I'd rather have Pau on the fastbreak than our guards. He's better at it than they are.' "

  • Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "It's known around the team that Kobe Bryant has been engaged in a left-handed shooting competition with Pau Gasol all season long, so he was asked about the southpaw free-throw attempt that LeBron James took in the first round against Chicago. 'It looked nasty,' Bryant said. 'My form's more like Chris Mullin ... I would have called a timeout (if my shooting elbow was hurting me).' There were two topics, however, that got Bryant to shut his yapper (as Ron Artest's Twitter feed would describe it). First Bryant was asked what part of his body was hurting him the most -- the right index finger, the right knee or the left ankle. 'I'm not saying,' Bryant said. Later, Bryant was asked how he would guard himself if he was an opposing coach. 'I'm not saying,' Bryant said. 'I plead the fifth.' "

  • Tim Buckley of the Deseret News: "Three games, three losses, 14 points separating the two teams. So close -- yet so, so far. The sting -- especially that from Game 3 -- seemed to hurt as much Sunday morning as it did Saturday night. 'Nah, it's not gonna go away,' Wesley Matthews said when asked if it had. 'It's still gonna stay there.' And that has the Jazz feeling they have only one choice in tonight's Game 4. That, Matthews said, would be to 'just play basketball.' 'We've just got to get this one to get going,' Carlos Boozer said. 'We've got nothing to lose,' Matthews added. Except, that is, a playoff series with the Lakers for the third straight postseason. That's not the only reason they seemed to be hurting so much Sunday. Perhaps it was also because they know no team in NBA history -- 88 have tried -- has come back from being down 0-3 to win a best-of-seven series."