First Cup: Wednesday

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Rumors of Paul Pierce’s demise apparently have been greatly exaggerated. The too old, too beat up, too unable to deal with LeBron James captain of the Celtics played the first four games of this conference semifinal series in, as the great philosopher Tony Allen put it, 'a funk.' Ah, but last night Pierce took one last sip of Geritol-flavored Gatorade, cast aside his walker and got a little funky on the Cavaliers. Pierce’s 21 points were a nice and needed touch, but it was his work at the other end of the gymnasium that was most influential in the Celtics’ stunning 120-88 clobbering of Cleveland that produced a 3-2 series lead. King James came into the game averaging 29.8 points on 50.6 percent shooting for the series, but last night his line was that of a commoner -- 15 points on 3-for-14 shooting. First coach Doc Rivers and then Pierce credited the team’s defensive approach. But that dismisses the critical change by Pierce, who got into James earlier and was more vigilant on denying him the ball. That helped out on two counts, the more critical being that by digging in away from the ball it helped keep Pierce out of the foul trouble that dogged him earlier in the series."

  • Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: "The only thing more shocking than the position Boston finds itself in is how they got here. In a seesaw series in which the Cavaliers won Games 1 and 3, and Boston rallied back in Games 2 and 4, Cleveland seemed poised to rise up again Tuesday. Instead, Boston chased the Cavs straight off their own playground. The Celtics limited LeBron James to a mere 15 points on 3-of-14 shooting over nearly 42 minutes of action. In possibly the biggest and most defining game of James' career -- not to mention, potentially his last in Cleveland -- they made the league's two-time MVP look supremely mortal, particularly after not registering a single field goal in the first half. Five of the six Celtics that landed in double figures matched or topped James' output for the night overall. The Celtics looked like a 12-man juggernaut; the Cavaliers looked like a team waiting for a player to rescue them. It didn't happen."

  • Marla Ridenour of the Akron Beacon-Journal: "Conspiracy theorists will find plenty to debate. Is LeBron James tired (from two years of nonstop basketball)? Hurting (from his injured right elbow)? Unhappy (with what looks like his team's lack of chemistry and the decision-making of Brown)? Ready to leave town (lured by last weekend's wooing of the New York press)? Or do the Celtics just have his number? It seems like a stretch to believe that even if James had made up his mind to depart in free agency this July, he would pack it in. He's always been a team-first player, showing no hint of unselfishness on the court. But the boos were loud and long on Tuesday, and James could not be absolved from the blatant displeasure. While compiling the best record in the NBA, James and the Cavs have been inconsistent all season, trying to switch on their effort when needed. But against the Celtics, there has been only one frantic rally, which fell short in Game 2. Owner Dan Gilbert and General Manager Danny Ferry will have to decide if the blame for that erratic desire falls at the feet of Brown or his players. But at least for this night, King James' fingerprints were all over it."

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "After the game, in an exclusive interview with The Plain Dealer, Gilbert expressed some frustration at the effort level of his team that he's spending more than $100 million in payroll this season; a team he put together by sparing no expense in an attempt to win the title this season. 'Our entire franchise has done everything in its power to put all of our players and its coaching staff in the best possible position to execute when it counts,' Gilbert said. 'And to deliver to the highly supportive fans of Cleveland a proud, intense, impassioned all-out drive to achieve a championship. The last two home playoff losses and the manner in which we lost these games does not come close to being anywhere near the high expectations all of us have of our organization. Our fans and supporters deserve more.' Like many fans must have been feeling after the 32-point loss, the worst home playoff loss in team history, Gilbert seemed to be taken aback by his team's effort in both the Game 4 and Game 5 losses, in which the Cavs were outhustled by the Celtics."

  • Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post: "Puppets aside, let’s have a discussion about legacy. LeBron James’s legacy. It’s taking a hit. So we’re only seven years into his career, a relatively small sample size. But Tuesday’s flameout in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals – the franchise’s worst home playoff loss in history – should raise some red flags and force some tough questions. And this is the biggest one: Is he cut out for this yet? Is James cut out to win when the stakes are at their highest? When will he be ready to truly assume his place among the game’s best, the kind of recognition that only championships can provide? I’m beginning to wonder. Winning in the playoffs is hard. But the great ones do it, and do it repeatedly against top-notch competition. If James’s Cleveland Cavaliers can’t get past the aging Celtics, and they are hanging by a thread down 3-2 going into Thursday’s Game 6 in Boston, this is what his last two seasons will look like: Two league MVP awards. Two years leading his team to the best record in the NBA. Zero trips to the NBA Finals. That doesn’t compute."

  • George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Why should anyone be surprised? Why should anyone blink because the Cleveland Cavaliers are on the ropes, bleeding and looking for a cut man? Why should we trust anyone other than LeBron James to step up and say ‘I got this’ when the Cavaliers are struggling? Boston Celtics 120, Cleveland Cavaliers 88. The Celtics could collapse, and the Cavs could still stage one of the memorable comebacks in recent playoff history. But let’s get real. The Cavs have no juice, no mojo, no nothing. Inexcusable. For Cleveland, this is the worst possible scenario: After having the best regular-season record in the NBA, the Cavs are on the verge of exiting the playoffs. They go back to Boston to play Thursday night, facing a win or go home scenario. The question then becomes, does LeBron simply take a detour to New York?"

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: "Although Ilgauskas has only worn a Cavaliers uniform, he told me that he kept the No. 17 Wizards jersey that team equipment manager Rob Suller shipped him to his home in Cleveland. 'Of course I did,' he said. 'It's part of my history.' Ilgauskas is beloved in Cleveland. He'll go down as one of the greatest to ever wear a Cavaliers' uniform. But his return to Cleveland generated a little uproar, with the Cavaliers essentially getting Jamison and Ilgauskas after an in-season vacation. Some were upset with the rule in the collective bargaining agreement that allows teams to stockpile talent by making trades while getting back the players they dealt away. Last week, NBA Commissioner David Stern admitted that the rule is 'not a great idea' and expects a longer waiting period will be worked out in the next round of negotiations. But now that Ilgauskas has been relegated to seldom-used backup center -- so deep in the rotation that Anderson Varejao, J.J. Hickson and even Leon Powe get minutes before him -- you sort of have to wonder what all the fuss was about. He's played just five minutes in four games against Boston. Ilgauskas's return to Cleveland hasn't resulted in the playing time that he had hoped for or expected, but he doesn't regret his decision. 'I looked at my options and I decided I wanted to come here,' he said. 'When push came down to shove, it was an easy decision for me.' "

  • Mike McGraw of the Daily Herald: "Charles Barkley had some harsh words for Joe Johnson's impending free-agency after the Atlanta guard averaged 12.9 points and shot 29.8 percent from the field while getting swept by Orlando. 'It hurt him badly,' Barkley said Monday on TNT. 'He already turned down $16 million a year and I clearly would take that off the table if I'm the Atlanta Hawks. A guy can't play like that and get $16 million a year.' Of course, in relative terms, having to settle for less than $16 million isn't such a bad thing. 'He clearly can't be your best player,' Barkley added. 'If you give a guy $16 million he's got to be the best player on your team. -- I like Joe Johnson, he's a good player, but he's not a $16 million a year player on any team.' "

  • Bob Cooney and Phil Jasner of the Philadelphia Daily News: "Are they close to something? Or are they more likely to take some time to sit back, review the notes from their various meetings and then try to whittle down their list? One thing we do know, according to a source familiar with their situation: They have not asked the Charlotte Bobcats for permission to speak with Larry Brown. So is there a front-runner among Doug Collins, Avery Johnson, Sam Mitchell, Bill Laimbeer, Dan Majerle and Monty Williams? If there is, the Sixers have offered no clues. President/general manager Ed Stefanski, senior vice president/assistant general manager Tony DiLeo and consultant Gene Shue have gone from city to city, conducting sessions that apparently have ranged from 4 to 5 1/2 hours."

  • Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press: "Timberwolves President David Kahn is back from watching his top draft pick from last year, Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio, compete in the Euroleague Championship last weekend in Paris. Don't expect Rubio, 19, to play for the Wolves next season. And don't expect the Wolves to trade him. Instead, look for him to be in training camp in Minnesota for the 2011-12 season. Rubio started both games that his FB Barcelona team won to earn the Euroleague title. 'Ricky played really well in the first game; he arguably was the best player on the floor,' Kahn said Tuesday. 'In the second game, he played a solid first half, but in the second half he had problems with the other team's defensive pressure. He got a little loose with the ball and didn't play very much in the second half.' Rubio, who still has a five-week season in his Spanish league, has a $1.3 million buyout in his five-year Barcelona contract."

  • Vincent Goodwill of The Detroit News: "Contenders are built on the backs of teams with incompetent -- or irritated -- management. Lakers forward Pau Gasol was essentially a salary dump from the Grizzlies in 2008. Cavaliers forward Antawn Jamison arrived from the Wizards when management decided to take a sledgehammer to the Gilbert Arenas era. Jason Richardson (Michigan State) helped turned the Suns from a perennial pretender to a threat in the West, after the Bobcats and Warriors decided they would be better off without him. While the Pistons aren't one move away from contending, it's well known Dumars poached bad teams for his last run. Richard Hamilton didn't seem like a good fit for then-Wizards coach Doug Collins and Michael Jordan in 2002, so Dumars sent an aging but experienced Jerry Stackhouse to a team desperate to win now. That same summer, the Timberwolves were knocked out of the first round for the sixth straight year. They had $10 million committed to an injured Terrell Brandon and had just drafted William Avery . Re-signing Chauncey Billups , who performed admirably while Brandon was out, wasn't an option. Dumars pounced, and in one fell swoop he had a championship backcourt."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "The league almost certainly will lock out the players after next season in order to force changes in the collective bargaining agreement to make it more equitable for owners – particularly those of small and mid-market teams. That would encompass the majority of franchises, including the Mavericks. One of the goals of CBA negotiations is to ensure that most teams have a fighting chance to turn a profit. By all accounts, commissioner David Stern is primed to play hardball on this one. So a nice piece of ammo like a lawsuit claiming the Mavericks are 'insolvent' can do nothing but help the NBA's stance and everything to damage the players' position. You can take it to the bank that Stern and his legal generals will do the same -- that is, take that information to the bank. And if the new CBA gives teams that work hard and work smart an opportunity to make money -- something Cuban says he has done in only one of his 10 years of ownership -- then a lawsuit about insolvency could be a moot point two years from now, which probably would be about the time it finally makes it to court."

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: "I have one, simple favor to ask of the Capital Improvement Board as it takes the next step in the process of bailing out the Indiana Pacers: Don't just roll over and play dead. OK? Put up a little bit of a fight, maybe a small tussle, a smidgen of opposition before doing what every government operation does when facing the big, bad sports franchise: That is, throw up the hands and give them whatever they want. Please, tell me, what was the purpose of spending 30 grand so that Rob Hunden and his company could tell us the Pacers bring in $55 million a year? So he could tell us what we already know, that having the Pacers and even the Fever is a fiscal and psychological plus for the city? We've got to lead the nation in the commissioning of useless studies. Where's pollster Frank Luntz when you need him?"

  • Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee: "This has been a magical few weeks for Orlando and its NBA franchise. The Magic turns the Atlanta Hawks into a bunch of Tweety Birds en route to the Eastern Conference finals, the downtown arena moves closer to opening night, and David Stern announces the All-Star Game will return in 2012. Sacramento? This could be you someday. While our arena process grinds along, with an intriguing, if brutally complicated land swap emerging as the critical component, this is a good time to revisit Orlando. If nothing else, we can all appreciate politicians, business leaders and assorted others who accomplish something – somewhere, anywhere – despite the shaky economy. Plus, Sacramento and Orlando and their NBA teams can stare at the mirror and see similarities, among them these: Arco Arena opened in 1988 and Amway Arena a few months later. Both buildings accommodate approximately 17,000 fans and have welcomed horses, cows, trapeze artists and Paul McCartney. The facilities also are renowned for their cramped concourses, confining locker rooms and cold showers. In another life, they would be called dogs, except for the fact they're beloved by no one."