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First Cup: Monday

  • Bob Ryan of The Boston Globe: "It was won in the beginning. It was preserved in the end. "Leads come and go in the NBA, where great shooters reside and where the 24-second clock eliminates the idea of holding the ball. Funky stuff happens at the end of games. Who makes or misses free throws usually seals the deal. But what people so often dismiss when a team such as the Celtics gets ahead of a team as powerful as the Magic by 20 points in the third quarter, and then hangs on to win by a 92-88 score, is how tremendously efficient and dedicated to the task they were in order to acquire that 20-point lead. Sure the Magic made a run. But it wasn’t good enough. The hill was too big to climb. 'Once we settled down and started playing our brand of basketball, we were OK,’ said Orlando’s Vince Carter. 'But we were 20 points down. That’s tough.’ "

  • Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: "Dwight Howard finished 3-of-10 from the field for a pedestrian 13 points and a condemning minus-9 in the plus/minus category. But that's not the most impressive nine on the stat sheet. That would be the nine fouls the Celtics committed on Howard, whacking him four times in the first quarter alone and letting him know that he'll have to earn every point he accrues this series. 'You gotta be physical, he plays physical,' said Rasheed Wallace. 'That was the thing we looked at on film; over the last two series, guys just let him do whatever he wanted to do down there. We're definitely going to fight him.' The Celtics entered the series with a lengthy defensive checklist, including contesting Orlando's 3-point shooters and stopping dribble penetration by Magic point guard Jameer Nelson. But being physical with Howard had to be at the top of that list in bold print, underlined twice, and smeared with yellow highlighter."

  • Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: "In professional sports, business is business, but it might not be as good business as some think to just let Ray Allen Allen walk out the door when this interminable NBA season ends. Allen reminded both the Celtics and the rest of the NBA of that by showing again what he brings to the arena on so many nights -- reliability, adjustments to the night’s problems and coolness in the face of mounting hysteria around him. Allen responded to Orlando’s early efforts to take his shot away by driving to the basket for all 12 of his first-half points, not hitting his first jumper -- fittingly a 26-foot 3-pointer -- until 6:12 of the third quarter. But when the Celtics needed him to put down shots from long range he did in two of the game’s most critical moments of the fourth quarter -- at a time when his teammates were unable to make a shot. ... 'There’s a lot of things I believe I can do and a lot of things I believe I will do, but a lot of times I just keep it to myself and just quietly work on them and prepare myself,' Allen said after his dead-eye shooting finished off the Magic. 'As a team we feel the same way. ... When we started the playoffs, Doc wrote on the board resolve. He said we have to have resolve if we want to go where we want to go.' Yesterday they spelled resolve R-A-Y A-L-L-E-N. Somebody in Boston better remember that."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "No matter what they do in this series, the Celtics are not entirely going to escape LeBron James’ shadow. And for the most part, they simply don’t care. 'There’s no disrespect to him,' Ray Allen said. 'He’s been one of the biggest stories of the year in the NBA. But now everyone has to watch us. I don’t need someone to look at us and say that we’re great. It will take care of itself. The bottom line is: Who cares? We have one goal: not for people to think about us, but to say that we’re the last team standing.' There is, however, some lingering empathy for the Cavaliers star. 'Hey, listen, we still win no matter what happens,' coach Doc Rivers said. “I feel bad in a lot of ways -- not bad about beating Cleveland and LeBron -- but it’s the coverage the kid gets. It’s funny, when he said the other day I’m 25 and you guys are talking about my legacy, it made me stop and say, ‘He’s only 25?’ And then my second thought was, ‘He is literally just a kid still.’ It’s almost sad in some ways with the stuff you read and hear and the pressure. My God, I guess it’s the curse of being great at 25.' "

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "The worst thing that was required from the last playoff perfect team on Sunday was that they were forced to play perfect. The Orlando Magic were so far behind that a late comeback needed to be error-free, every shot had to fall and every stop defended. Even the beer vendor couldn't spill a drop. You can perhaps pull off that against lesser teams, but not against the Boston Celtics, who wrote the handbook on how to win titles. The fact is, the Magic had to mount a furious, fourth-quarter rally just to make their 92-88 loss seem respectable in the opening game of the Eastern Conference Finals at Amway Arena. This was as thorough a four-point beating as you'll ever see. The Magic never led at any point, dug a 20-point hole and looked as if they were caught flat-footed when the Celtics charged out with a Paul Pierce haymaker of a '3.' "

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Now we get to see. Now we get to find out. Now we finally learn if the Orlando Magic really and truly are championship material. We know what the high-flying, free-wheeling Magic can do when opponents lay down and play the role of frustrated foot wipes in the playoffs. Now let's see what the knocked-down, beaten-up Magic can do when they get punched in the teeth during the playoffs. We interrupt the clamor about where LeBron James will play next season to bring you this update from the Eastern Conference finals: Celtics 92, Magic 88. And to make it even more icky, Orlando Magic dancer Megan Clementi was one of the first contestants eliminated from the Miss USA pageant Sunday night. What's worse: The Magic losing to the Celtics or a Magic dancer losing to Miss Maine? Coming soon: Stuff the Magic dragon getting his head ripped off by UCF's Knightro in a loser-leave-the-city mascot death match? It was bound to happen sooner or later. They had to lose eventually. Come on, you knew they weren't going to go through the playoffs with a perfect 16-0 record, right? These guys are good, but they're not the '72 Dolphins."

  • Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: "When Steve Nash takes the floor for Game 1 against the Lakers, he'll discover much has changed since his dramatic injury. Robin Lopez will be back in uniform. The Suns are underdogs once again. And with his team just four wins removed from a spot in the NBA Finals, the gritty point guard will feel the embrace of the nation. Of all the main characters left in the NBA playoffs, Nash is the most sympathetic figure by far. During his 14 years in the league, he never has been to the NBA Finals. No one ever has participated in as many playoff games (112) without playing for a title. Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing, Reggie Miller and John Stockton never won a championship ring. Nash has never even had the chance. Already a highly popular player among NBA fans, Nash's quest will be one of the focal points of the Western Conference finals. And his determination will be defined by the stitches he took in San Antonio, returning to play the entire fourth quarter with an eye that was swollen shut by the end of the game. Sports fans across America love that kind of moxie."

  • E. J. Montini of The Arizona Republic: "Quick, answer this question: The Phoenix Suns would not be in the Western Conference finals Monday without ...? No. It's not Amar'e Stoudemire. Nope, not Steve Nash either. Steve Kerr? Uh-uh. Robert Sarver? No siree bob. Give up? It's simple. The Suns would not be in the conference finals Monday without Jerry Colangelo. The fact is, without Colangelo, there might not even BE a Phoenix Suns. Colangelo moved here in 1968 to become the expansion Suns' first general manager, the youngest (at 29) in professional-sports history. He saved the franchise in 1987, when the team suffered through a drug scandal. He brought in the kind of quality players that got the team to the league finals in 1976 and again in 1993. Without Colangelo, the Suns -- and the city of Phoenix -- would be something very different. And not quite as good. While Colangelo only severed his long relationship with the team in 2007, I have a sense that people here already are fuzzy on the details of his involvement. If they remember at all. That's just how we are."

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "Finally, there will be a game. The Lakers haven't played since completing a sweep of Utah a week ago, but the circumstances are more considerable, the results more weighty when they begin the Western Conference finals Monday against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center. They're four victories away from a 31st appearance in the NBA Finals, but they'll get there only if Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum shake off knee injuries that have basically kept them off the practice court the last week. Bryant recently had a significant amount of fluid drained from his swollen right knee, The Times has learned, and hasn't practiced since the last round. Bynum practiced only once and said the torn cartilage in his right knee was "getting a little worse" after making it through Saturday's scrimmage. Ready or not, here come the run-and-gun Suns."

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: "Tag, Derek Fisher, you're it. Again. First it was the young legs and ridiculous athleticism of Russell Westbrook. Then came the polished, dominant Deron Williams. Now comes crafty Steve Nash, whose perfection of the pick and roll, among other things, might one day land him in the Hall of Fame. Elite point guards, all of them. And each the responsibility of Fisher, whose success in neutralizing Westbrook and Williams in the first two rounds helped the Lakers reach the Western Conference finals. Now he must craft a defense to slow down Nash, the sly quarterback of the Phoenix Suns, as the Lakers try to advance to their third consecutive NBA Finals. Pressure, to be sure, but nothing new to Fisher, who has been down the road so many times it's hard to keep track anymore."

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: "The Lakers are the ones in this series with the best player. And the best player must be feeling better than he has in weeks. But who knows for sure? Kobe Bryant chose not to talk Sunday. But honestly, was he suddenly going to start revealing things now? If the Lakers advance -- the prediction here is they will in six games -- let’s hope someone asks Andrew Bynum about his knee again. Just to see if he’s learning anything. Personally, this past weekend, we would have preferred hearing Bynum answer like this: 'The knee’s OK, won’t hold me back any … and I’m not gonna agree Steve Nash carries the ball a lot, but I just saw where he led the NBA this season in rushing.' "