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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "The Orlando Magic were perhaps due some luck in the land of the shamrocks. And with two minutes, 42 seconds left in their season, point guard Jameer Nelson tossed up a 3-point shot that somehow banked in off the glass. Nothing but hope. And that's what the Magic have to bank on after staying alive with a dramatic 96-92 overtime victory against the Boston Celtics on Monday night. Two days after suffering one of the franchise's most embarrassing defeats, the Magic recovered at TD Banknorth Garden, thanks to Nelson and Dwight Howard. The victory cut the still-daunting deficit in the series to 3-1, setting up Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night at Amway Arena. Coach Stan Van Gundy was asked if one win could have enough of a psychological effect to make the Magic a threat. 'It obviously does you're going home with confidence that you can win and an understanding how hard you have to fight to win,' coach Stan Van Gundy said."

  • George Diaz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard got an emotional pick-me-up from another big guy before Monday night’s Eastern Conference game against the Boston Celtics: Hakeem Olajuwon, the former great with the Houston Rockets, talked to Dwight to offer words of inspiration. 'Me and him had a great talk,' Howard said. 'He just inspired me to keep playing. So I didn’t want to give up, because I just felt like there was a lot of people pulling for us to keep going. That was it.' So how did that work out? Hours later, after all the elbows, all the energy and all the excitement, Howard finished 32 points, 16 rebounds and 4 blocks. Superman stats. An effort of will and perseverance, when his team needed a huge pick-me-up."

  • Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: "Monday's loss was eerily reminiscent to anovertime loss to the Houston Rockets in early April in which Celtics coach Doc Rivers swore that it was still April Fools Day, considering his team's atrocious execution. After that game, the Big Three convened for a rare dinner to discuss the state of the 2009-10 Celtics. Boston rebounded two days later with a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Easter Sunday, starting the process by which the Celtics restored their championship hopes. There's probably no need for the Big Three to break bread before Wednesday's Game 5 in Orlando, but Monday's loss was a subtle reminder of how difficult the Celtics can make their own lives when they're not mentally focused."

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: "Among other things, the Celtics suffered from their first serious lack of poise since the first round against Miami, when Kevin Garnett served a one-game suspension for his ejection after elbowing the Heat’s Quentin Richardson. The Celtics forward was whistled for his third technical last night early in the third quarter after getting into an argument under the basket with several members of the Magic in the 96-92 overtime loss. Garnett finally pushed away Matt Barnes, who appeared to be attempting to calm Garnett down. Garnett’s technical actually appeared to push the Celtics emotionally in the short run, but when Rasheed Wallace was whistled for his fourth T of the postseason early in the fourth, the C’s fortunes went south. J.J. Redick’s free throw gave Orlando a three-point lead (71-68), and Redick came back with a 3-pointer seconds later. The postseason limit before suspensions take effect is six technical fouls."

  • Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: "So now what? That is what you wondered all night long as the Orlando Magic struggled and strived to get past the Celtics [team stats] for at least one game in the Eastern Conference Finals. Finally, they did it, 96-92, in an overtime win that kept them alive but barely. Leading 3-0 with a chance to close the show on the Magic and rest a few days while awaiting their NBA Finals opponent, the Celtics wanted the sweep, not to satisfy the many who stood in line outside TD Garden with brooms in hand as if the place had become a day labor pick up joint. It was not about a sweep from an artistic point of view. It was about eliminating a dangerous opponent before they realized they had a chance to be dangerous."

  • Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: "Basketball players lie about their size. They'll add a couple of inches to their listed height. They'll play defense with their arms in the air. They'll do anything possible to seem taller. Not Robin Lopez. He hunches over when he runs. He swoops down when he plays defense, like a brontosaurus lowering its head from the trees. His body language suggests a young man who hasn't always been comfortable as a 7-foot specimen towering over the crowd. And yet he was not at all out of place in the Suns' biggest game of the season. 'Maybe he's not aware that we're in the Western Conference finals,' Suns assistant coach Bill Cartwright said. Or maybe he's the missing link. ... As some members of the national media discovered on Monday, Lopez is a tough subject. He speaks in clipped sentences. He doesn't smile or engage in small talk. He approaches incoming questions with suspicion and intensity, just as he does incoming point guards. He comes off as a bit rude, and I'm guessing Derek Fisher would agree."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "The Suns brought intrigue to the conference finals by beating the Lakers with nearly three quarters of exclusive 2-3 zone defense. That likely would not be the path for them to send the series back to Los Angeles tied with a Game 4 win tonight at home. There is a reason NBA teams rarely have used the zone in the nine seasons it has been legal, especially for anything but a quick change of pace. It winds up being picked apart by shooters who are too good to leave alone and by larger teams who can't be boxed out well by it. But for one night, it was the Suns' antidote after they had given up 58 percent shooting over nine quarters. Would a day of practicing better ball movement and penetration smooth out the Lakers' offense against the Suns' new wrinkle? 'No, we're doomed,' Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said."

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: "Alvin Gentry got defensive Monday about the Phoenix Suns defense. The Suns coach has no plans to ditch his zone defense in favor of a return to a more traditional man-to- man for Game 4 tonight, however. 'We won't play zone if they won't throw it to Kobe,' a smiling Gentry said, referring to Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, who is averaging 32.3 points on 51.5 percent shooting in the first three games of the Western Conference finals. 'We have to try to find every situation that gives us a chance to win. If we have to play our girlie zone, as somebody said, then we'll play our girlie zone. We're going to do whatever we have to do to win.' Phoenix won Game 3 on Sunday in part because the Lakers got tangled up in the Suns zone. The Lakers scored only 15 points on 7-for-20 shooting (35 percent) in the second quarter, losing their momentum and eventually their stranglehold on the series."

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: "Before practice Monday, Derek Fisher said he 'hated hearing' that Nash’s nose was broken, and we sincerely believe him. We do not in any way suspect Fisher of intentionally trying to injury Nash. He’s way too human for that. However, the game was over -- the Lakers trailed by eight points with 19 seconds left -- and Fisher and his teammates had been showing signs of frustration. So we’re just saying that Fisher made one of his classic psychotically aggressive moves and, likely in his mind, if some cartilage just happened to get redistributed along the way, so be it. These are the playoffs. If Nash wanted to lounge around this time of year with his nose and everything else intact, he could retire. Or go play for the Clippers. We’re good with Fisher’s actions because this series desperately needed what it received Sunday. After losing games by 21 and 12 points at Staples Center, the Suns finally took exception at home, and the Lakers excepted them right back. Yeah, that’s right. We just invented a new use for the word excepted. But we in the media are always making up things."

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "The lanky big man hopped toward the scorer's table, his long locks in some crazy contortion that makes barbers roll their eyes and Barbaras bat their eyes. He's got a little rebel in him -- and plays like he's got a little Red Bull in him -- and so, when he checks into the game, such as Sunday night against the Lakers, the Phoenix fans praise him with the ultimate compliment, screaming "Lou" until their faces are blue. 'LOUUUUUUUUUU!' Yes, Louis Amundson, a proud Coloradan and Monarch High School alum, is the Suns' Chris Andersen. Amundson's arrival to the scorer's table commences a celebration of anticipation. 'The first thing I'm thinking when I enter a game is get to every ball -- get to every rebound, get to every loose ball, every ball on the floor,' said the backup post player for the Suns. 'The Suns are real up-tempo, real loose, not a whole lot of structure, and that fits in with what I like to do. I like to run, use my quickness and my speed.' The 27-year-old Amundson plays about 12 minutes a game for the Suns, seldom shooting, instead affecting the game with home-grown hustle. In Sunday's Game 3 against the Lakers, Channing Frye's clanked 3-pointer for Phoenix was heading for the hands of a Laker until the 6-foot-9, 206-pound Amundson, seemingly from the stands, leapt into the play and tipped the rebound to a teammate."

  • Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "When Doug Collins traveled on a red-eye flight from Phoenix to Philadelphia on Sunday night, he was so excited he couldn't sleep. This should provide good practice for Collins as he becomes the new head coach of the 76ers, a position that has not been conducive to untroubled minds and restful nights among its recent occupants. Collins, a high-energy player and coach with a nimble basketball brain that is always running the floor in transition, will be the eighth head coach of the Sixers in the space of nine seasons. He takes over a team that, in that span of time, has gone from being a marquee franchise to one that operates in relative anonymity. Most frustratingly, after a wasted year under the wrong head coach, Collins takes over a team that is a mystery even to those in its front office. General manager Ed Stefanski and his staff don't really know if the current roster can develop into something good and, after step-back years for some key components, are confused about the potential of more than a few players."

  • Rick Noland of The Chronicle-Telegram: "No matter what the Cavaliers say or don’t say -- and they are saying virtually nothing at the moment -- we all know the main reason Mike Brown was fired as coach Monday: Owner Dan Gilbert realized it was the only way his team had a chance of re-signing LeBron James when the 25-year-old becomes a free agent on July 1. Certainly, the Cavs’ playoff failĀ­ures the last two years -- losing to Boston in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2010 and falling to Orlando in the conference finals in 2009 -- played a tremendous role, but let’s not kid ourselves. If James had gone to Gilbert and said, 'I’ll re-sign if Mike comes back,' do you honestly think there is any way Brown would have been fired? The Cavs not only would have kept Brown, they would have had a contract extension in hand and offered Brown as many years as James felt were appropriate. Always image conscious, James never publicly called for Brown’s dismissal, but he didn’t have to. His actions -- or, particularly as they relate to Game 5 of the Boston series this year, non-actions -- spoke loud enough."

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: "Would Gregg Popovich have succeeded with LeBron James? Mike Brown surely made mistakes, and he’s not the first to win a lot of games and get fired. He’s the most successful coach in Cavaliers history, and he went to a Finals against the Spurs, but he also did this with a two-time MVP. This spring undercut him. His offense and rotations stuttered, and his players quit. But Popovich heard the same over the years, particularly with his predictable offense at the turn of the century. When the Spurs were swept in 2001, they looked as disheartened as the Cavaliers. ... LeBron? The blame is always for someone else, and this cuts to what happened to Mike Brown. Unless you are willing to take some responsibility, it’s always going to be someone else’s fault. After an embarrassing second-round exit, Brown became LeBron’s excuse. Maybe Popovich would have demanded more from LeBron earlier in their relationship. And maybe Brown was too nice. But, in LeBron, Popovich wouldn’t have gotten what he found in Tim Duncan. Which is a partner."

  • Phil Miller of the Star Tribune: "To NBA scouts, getting a B.S. sometimes just means you're halfway to B-U-S-T. 'It can be a hindrance, if there is a perception that their development stopped at some point,' Timberwolves president David Kahn said Monday as he oversaw workouts for a dozen NBA hopefuls at Target Center. 'It can be a good thing or a bad thing.' Certainly it's an unusual thing. Since college players won the right to enter the draft early more than three decades ago, it's become rare for a potential top-10 pick to stay in school for four years. There is too much money at stake, too much risk of injury, most players figure, so the draft, even under the NBA's rule prohibiting teams from drafting players until one year after high school graduation, has become dominated by underclassman. Only four college seniors were selected in the first round of last June's NBA draft, and just one, Louisville guard Terrence Williams, No. 11 to New Jersey, went in the lottery. This year might be even more lopsided; no college seniors are projected to be selected in the top half of the first round."