First Cup: Monday

  • Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "The Lakers length is the one dominant advantage they are supposed to have no matter which opponent they play. Kind of the way Usain Bolt's stride should allow him to beat anybody on the planet in a sprint. But in Sunday's 118-109 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals, that lessened the Lakers lead to 2-1 in the series, there was significant shrinkage going on. The big letdown ended up being an accumulation of a myriad of miscues. 'It was a bunch,' Ron Artest said. 'We had foul trouble, we had some turnovers, some missed shots, some missed layups, a bunch of little things.' The Suns used a 2-3 zone defense that completely neutralized the Lakers size. L.A. averaged a 14-point lead in points in the paint and 6.5 more rebounds per game in the first two games to start the series, but dipped in both those categories in Game 3, outscoring the Suns by just four in the lane and grabbing just one more rebound. They zoned out, making lazy passes to the tune of 17 turnovers, many of which were unforced, instead of penetrating the seams."

  • Arash Markazi of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "What? You were expecting another double-digit rout? Planning for another anticlimactic sweep? Had already made plans for the NBA Finals to start early? You weren't alone. But something strange happened on the way to another lackluster conference final game we all thought we knew the outcome to before it began. Both teams actually showed up to play. It may be a foreign concept on the East Coast but it really is amazing how good a game can be if one of the teams doesn't roll over and play dead after the conclusion of the national anthem. As a result the Phoenix Suns beat the Los Angeles Lakers, 118-109, in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, which, momentarily anyway, put a stop to the litany of Lakers-Celtics preview stories you were supposed to start seeing today."

  • Paola Boivin of The Arizona Republic: "If you can judge a man by his shoes, then you can judge a basketball player by his locker. Amar'e Stoudemire has a diagram of John Wooden's pyramid of success taped inside his space. On a shelf is a book called 'Becoming Vegan.' The man has spoken a lot about becoming a more complete player. On Sunday in Game 3 against the Los Angeles Lakers, he finally delivered. Forty-two points. Eleven rebounds. And a big-time nasty attitude. This is what the Suns have wanted from Stoudemire, what they needed if they hoped to avoid a Lakers sweep. It is the type of game that tips the scale toward staying as the front office contemplates how hard to court him. 'He got his way (Sunday night),' Lakers forward Pau Gasol said after the Suns 118-109 victory. 'We'll get our way next time.' Will they? Those are words Stoudemire should embrace. He did it Sunday night. The Suns need him to bring it again."

  • Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: "Robin Lopez, who played nearly 30 minutes and may have changed the complexion of the series. He played mean, but he played cool. He made incidental (cough, cough) contact with Derek Fisher, making the Lakers' point guard flush with rage. He poured in 20 points and rarely seemed to break a sweat. By far, this was the Suns' biggest game of the season. And at one point in the second half, Lopez started messing with Bill Cartwright's tie during a timeout, and the playfulness seemed to shock the Suns assistant coach. ... Lopez's performance came at a crucial time, especially given the struggles of the backup center. Once again, Channing Frye looked skittish and uncomfortable, missing every field goal he attempted. After barking at Frye to quit looking at the bench, Suns coach Alvin Gentry tried his best to rescue his player, selecting Frye to shoot the free throw after a Lakers' technical foul, even though Leandro Barbosa was the percentage play. ... But the most improbable story might have been the Suns' zone defense, which actually worked. On three consecutive possessions in the second half, the Lakers didn't know where to attack. Bryant stood on the wing, screaming for the ball. He became irritated, and at one point put his jersey in his mouth to control his emotions."

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: "Sit him down. Sit him down from now until Boston. Send Andrew Bynum back to Los Angeles and stick him into ice or plug him into a machine or slide him into a microwave or something. How much more can you watch? How much more can the Lakers endure? The tear in Bynum's knee has officially become a pain in everyone else's neck. End the charade. Begin his rest. From this point, he will have at least a week off before the start of the NBA Finals. Time won't heal the torn meniscus, but perhaps it will strengthen everything around it, including his spirit, and better prepare him for more important battles ahead. It's a longshot. But it's the only shot the Lakers have. They can't continue shoving their big man on to a court where he grows smaller and smaller."

  • T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times: " 'Are you bummed out?' I want to know after he finishes with as many rebounds as personal ouls in Game 3 loss to Phoenix. 'No,' Odom says. 'Life is good.' Like always, he was there in front of his locker, waiting patiently until the last reporter was done with him, the question, though, almost always the same: 'Why do you have games like this?' The carefree answer not gibing with all the time, energy and grit that goes into preparing for a playoff game that might lead to a shot at a championship. 'It's just a game,' he says. 'It's just like when you play great, you put those games behind you, and when you play bad, you put those behind you.' But why? Why the bad game? ... 'The greatest players in the world sometimes play bad in any sport,' Odom says.' Joe Montana had one before. Gretzky. It happens. I'm just Lamar.' When I ask him whether he understands what it's like for a fan to watch him play, never knowing what they might get, he says, 'Yeah, a fan. But I'm the player. You should listen to the player. Listen to the guy who's been playing since he was 10 years old. Take his word for it. Everything will be fine. I promise you.' "

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Historical evidence indicates the Orlando Magic are vacation-bound, unable to change the course of the series against the Boston Celtics. But maybe tonight they can change -- or erase -- an unflattering image that could dog them into the summer and beyond after Saturday night's Boston Massacre. 'We do want to erase that,' Vince Carter said Sunday after practice. 'That wasn't us. That's not the real us.' The sudden perception is that the Magic are paper tigers, mentally and physically soft. And, worse, they tend to surrender when the going gets tough. ... How many times did the Magic see the seemingly endless ESPN replay of a diving Rajon Rondo wrestling a loose ball from Jason Williams? Outhustled and outmuscled in a wretched 94-71 Game 3 loss, the Magic tonight try to avoid being swept by the Celtics at TD Garden. No team has ever gone on to win a seven-game series after falling behind 0-3. Coach Stan Van Gundy said players 'were down' on Sunday when they started reviewing Game 3 videotape, conceding they are 'a little shaken.' "

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Another man would be relishing and revelling in the demoralizing, destructive beating his team is administering to the franchise that once fired him. Another man might have the urge to brag and say, 'I told you so.' Another man -- a lesser man -- would vindictively and vociferously be getting the last laugh. Doc Rivers is too classy for such nonsense. In fact, the present coach of the Celtics and the former coach of the Magic can feel your pain, Orlando. In a strange, mixed-up way, your pain is his pain. The fact is, he's more Floridian than Bostonian. Many of his best friends are Magic fans. He lives in Orlando during the offseason. His wife Kris and four kids live here year-round. He says he will live here for the rest of his life. 'I've always found it very difficult to play against Orlando and the Magic because I like the people here, I liked the people I worked for when I coached the Magic and I have so many friends here,' Doc told me the other day. 'I feel conflicted in a lot of ways. … If you want me to be honest, I don't find a lot of joy in playing the Magic.' What a strange dynamic, huh? The Magic just suffered a 94-71 Beantown beatdown at the hands of the Celtics and are on the verge of getting broomed out of the Eastern Conference Finals, but Doc will continue to be beloved here. Can you think of another situation in pro sports where the coach of the opposing team is still beloved and entrenched in the city where he was once fired?"

  • Bill Doyle of the Worcester Telegram & Gazette: "Many fans believe that the torch has already been passed, that the Celtics have become Rajon Rondo’s team more than anyone else’s. But while Celtics captain Paul Pierce appreciates Rondo’s growth, he’s not quite ready to call him the team’s most valuable player. He reserves that honor for Kevin Garnett. 'Without Kevin,' Pierce said before the Celtics practiced yesterday at HealthPoint, 'we can’t win the championship. A lot of these other guys on this team are replaceable. I’m replaceable probably, Ray (Allen)’s probably replaceable, Rondo, but you can’t replace Kevin. You see the difference. Last year we didn’t have him to now in this playoff where we’re having him. His intangibles, his smarts, the things he does on the court are irreplaceable for a guy his size.' The Celtics lost to Orlando in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals last year when the 6-foot-11 Garnett was sidelined with a knee injury. With Garnett back in the lineup and as healthy as he’s been since undergoing knee surgery nearly a year ago, the Celtics can sweep the Magic in the conference finals with a victory at 8:30 tonight at the Garden."

  • Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald: "Rajon Rondo's mad dash up the parquet Saturday night to wrestle a loose ball from the Orlando Magic’s Jason Williams has already become the stuff of local legend, a scrapbook moment that Celtics fans will remember for years. Yet as painful as it looked when he was diving for the ball, Rondo was happy to report yesterday that he woke up with no bruises, raspberries or other telltale signs that he’d had a close encounter with the Garden parquet. 'Just this right here,' he said yesterday, holding up his right hand and revealing that he had jammed his middle finger. In fact, Rondo found it more painful to deal with the media yesterday than to throw himself on the hard Garden basketball surface. As he was answering questions at the Celtics training facility, a loose ball conked him upside the head. After pantomiming to chase after whoever threw the ball his way, he returned to answering questions. 'I just wanted to win,' Rondo said matter-of-factly, when asked about beating Williams to the ball. 'It was as simple as that. If that’s what it takes for the team to win, I’m going to outwork the opposing team.' Though the play has no doubt been viewed by many basketball fans throughout the world, Rondo, wrapped up in his postseason shell, said he’s unaware of what’s being said. As of yesterday, he hadn’t even talked with friends and family members about it. 'I have my cell phone turned off during the playoffs,' he said."

  • Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: "There's no official metric for it and there likely never will be. But there's an unspoken statistical category in the NBA some have dubbed 'WIM,' an abbreviation of 'Wants it more.' This is WIM in a nutshell: A ball springs off the rim directly above two players. Both have an equal shot at it -- athletic prowess notwithstanding -- but only one player can come down with it. The player who gets it? That's a tick in the WIM column. And it's no surprise that there's a strong correlation between WIMs and wins. The Boston Celtics, as they have done throughout the Eastern Conference finals and the entire postseason, dominated the WIM category during Saturday's Game 3 matchup with the Orlando Magic. ... After an eye-opening postseason while starting in place of Kevin Garnett last year, Glen Davis has struggled at times during the 2009-10 campaign. Yet Orlando, as it did last postseason, brings the best out of him. Davis scored 10 second-quarter points Saturday, grabbing two offensive rebounds in the period. The Magic never cut their deficit lower than 14 after that thanks in large part to Davis' hustle. His WIMs helped leave Orlando a broken team."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "Should this series somehow head back to Orlando for a Game 5 on Wednesday, members of the Celtics traveling party are sure to be put on alert about Section 106 at Amway Arena. Relatives of Ray Allen were forced to move out of that section following a dispute with hecklers in Game 1. Two nights later, Willie Buie, the stepfather of Marquis Daniels, was removed from the same section following another dispute. He later was taken down by a Taser and charged with resisting arrest."

  • Brian Windhorst of The Plain Dealer: "The most successful coach in Cavaliers history is now a former coach. In a move expected since the team lost three consecutive games to be upset by the Boston Celtics in the conference semifinals, the Cavs fired coach Mike Brown on Sunday according to a league source. ... Perhaps some of Brown's strongest work was his ability to help LeBron James become a better defender. After being suspect on defense his first two seasons in the NBA, James steadily improved under Brown. He was named first team All-Defense in each of the last two seasons. But over the last two seasons, Brown's defense has struggled in the clutch. In losing in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2009, the Cavs allowed 103 points per game and 48 percent shooting. In getting ousted by the Celtics in the second round this year, the Cavs gave up 100 points and 47 percent shooting per game. During his tenure Brown was often criticized for his offensive systems. But over the last two years made assistant coaches offensive coordinators and the Cavs had their best offensive year in Brown's tenure this season. The Cavs were one of the top six offensive teams in the league, averaging 102 points and shooting 48 percent per game. Brown's regular season record was 272-138, a .663 winning percentage that was the best in team history. Brown also set a team record for playoff wins, finishing 42-29."