First Cup: Friday

  • Mark Heisler of the Los Angeles Times: "Thanks, Big Laker in the Sky. The Lakers didn't win Game 5 Thursday night, they put it in the hands of the gods and let them sort it out. Tantalizing the Suns, the gods let Phoenix come from 18 points down in the last 16 minutes to tie it, getting off three three-pointers on its last possession before Jason Richardson banked the last one in from the top of the circle. Then the gods walked Ron Artest, who had just thrown up one of the dumbest shots in Lakers history, which is saying something, under Kobe Bryant's airball to make the winning shot as time ran out in an improbable -- OK, lucky --103-101 victory at Staples Center."

  • Bill Plaschke of theLos Angeles Times: " 'Nooooooooo!' Nineteen thousand fans shouted in unison as Ron Artest threw up the silliest shot of the season, an unconscionable bomb in the final moments, a boneheaded brick. 'Yessssssssss!' Nineteen thousands fans shouted in unison as Ron Artest threw up the biggest shot of the season, an improbable snatch-and-toss of a Kobe Bryant airball at the final buzzer, a brilliant bank. ... No. Yes. No. Yes. It's taken eight months, but the inevitable has finally happened, Ron Artest has officially driven this city mad, turning us into a confused puddle of splattered emotions, turning us into him. Oh, yeah, he also just pushed the Lakers to within one win of their third consecutive trip to the NBA Finals with a last-second shot Thursday that gave them a 103-101 victory over the Phoenix Suns in a pivotal Game 5 of the Western Conference finals. It was his biggest shot ever! Well, sort of. 'My biggest layup,' he said afterward. 'I missed lot of layups in the regular season.' "

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: "Baseball has the walk-off homer. Ron Artest just gave basketball the laugh-off banker. The Lakers won Game 5 with the last shot Thursday and even more so with the last laugh, Artest scoring just his second basket of the game at the buzzer and doing so only moments after he badly missed two jumpers that had Staples Center audibly gasping. To be frank, we also didn't foresee Derek Fisher doing what he did in this 103-101 victory. But then who would forecast a 35-year-old who stands barely 6-foot-1 rising to a height where he could reach out and hang another championship banner from the ceiling. That was too-slow Derek Fisher throwing his chest into the charging Suns. That was too-old Derek Fisher sailing into the courtside photographers in pursuit of a ball. That was too-tired Derek Fisher providing two of the biggest fourth-quarter jumpers. 'He played fantastic,' long-time teammate Kobe Bryant said. 'I thought he played a marvelous game.' "

  • Ramona Shelburne of ESPNLosAngeles.com: "He had to swallow hard on the question. Pausing, for a long second, to gulp on whatever well of positivity he could find in this ugly moment before answering. Once again, Steve Nash's Phoenix Suns had come up the lovable losers. The guys looking on the bright side and drawing strength from how well they'd played before the other guys ended up celebrating at mid-court after some crazy, ridiculous game-winning play. 'You know,' Nash said, in a voice more gravelly than usual. 'Everything's OK. Maybe we deserved this game, maybe we didn't. But we lost. And they held home court. We'll go back and do the same and we'll come back here for Game 7.' This latest round of playoff heartbreak, courtesy of an opportunistic putback from Ron Artest to give the Lakers a 103-101 win in Game 5 of the Western Conference finals at Staples Center, came after Nash had brilliantly led the Suns back from an 18-point second-half deficit with 29 points and 11 assists."

  • Paola Boivin of The Arizona Republic: "Yes, the colors on the floor were purple and gold, not purple and orange, but how did the Lakers regain their energy and efficiency in the first half as the Suns became slower, more careless and well, shallow (as in the bench)? The Suns must hope momentum suits up for the home team Saturday. Midway through the third quarter, the Lakers were drumming the Suns into submission with 16 second-chance points to zero. That's effort and hustle. And then momentum turned. The Suns came alive. Steve Nash made 4 of 5 shots in the fourth quarter and his team outscored the Lakers 29-25. 'It's kind of the way we thought he would play,' Phil Jackson said. The Suns aren't bringing back a win but they are bringing back something else. '(The comeback) gives us a lot of hope,' Jason Richardson said."

  • Dan Bickley of The Arizona Republic: "After getting back in the series, there was reason to believe that Game 5 might be different from the previous two losses in Los Angeles. The Suns had recovered their swagger and seemed to hold the antidote to Jackson's vaunted triangle offense. It was a zone defense, and for that, they owed a debt of gratitude to Jerry Colangelo. Back in 1999, Colangelo led a committee to get the NBA out of the muck. At the time, television ratings and attendance were beginning to plummet. League scoring had dipped to 91 points per game, a level not seen since the advent of the 24-second shot clock in 1954. Under Colangelo's guidance, serious changes were implemented before the 2001 season, and teams were free to play zone defense, ultimately giving the Suns the tool they needed to get back in this series. Now, they are back on their heels. The Suns missed nine free throws, and a wonderful opportunity. They yielded 19 offensive rebounds, including one they'll never forget. Robin Lopez was held scoreless, the kind of statistical line the Suns could tolerate when Jarron Collins was the starting center. And in the end, they still hadn't shown the ability to win in Los Angeles. They'll have only one more chance, and that's if they're lucky."

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: "The Suns would never be prepared to play so much zone defense if it had not been for Dwyane Wade blowing by them continuously six months ago. In the fourth game of the season, Miami had taken a 12-point lead on Phoenix in the third quarter with 11 unanswered points, including six on Wade drives, when Suns coach Alvin Gentry called for a 2-3 zone. The Heat went 10 for 38 from the field the rest of the game, the Suns won and a defensive option was born. At times, the Suns solved their defensive shortcomings with a dose of zone. More often, the zone dissolved but it became a staple for Phoenix more than other teams. Gentry said the zone probably would not ever have become part of the arsenal without that Miami road game. 'I got hot and cold with it all the time to be honest,' Gentry said. 'It works some and you think, 'Boy, we're pretty good at it.' Then the next game you just get shelled out of it and you go, 'Ah, you can't play a zone.' We've stuck with it now because I think it gives us the best chance to guard these guys.' "

  • Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel: "Most things are overstated in the ying and yang of the playoffs, but this is not one of them: Tonight's the biggest night in the history of the Orlando Magic since 1995. Why? If the Magic win Game 6 against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden, they will have a chance to play their next three games at Amway Arena -- an improbable Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, plus the first two games of the NBA Finals. Yes, the championship would go through Orlando, just as it did 15 years ago. The Magic emerged with home-court advantage in the playoffs because they have the best regular-season record of the four remaining teams. Of course, they've also squandered that advantage, losing the first two games to the Celtics. They'll need to defy history to return to the Finals, becoming the first team to ever advance after falling into an 0-3 hole. The Magic will have to do it the hard way, and apparently, without any breaks. On Thursday, the NBA rescinded a technical foul on Celtics starting center Kendrick Perkins, making him eligible to play tonight."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "A few days ago, when the Boston Celtics had taken an historically insurmountable 3-0 lead over the Orlando Magic, Kevin Garnett was asked about the Boston Bruins and their recent collapse in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Celtics star bristled and said, 'This is not hockey, so I'm not even looking at that. The Bruins are not the Celtics. The Celtics are not the Bruins. Apples and oranges.' Sorry, K.G., but that was then and this is now. And now it's more like oranges and grapefruits. The Bruins folding after taking a 3-0 lead against the Philadelphia Flyers is the orange. The Celtics potentially blowing a 3-0 lead to the Magic is the grapefruit -- bigger, meatier and leaving a much more bitter taste in the mouth of Bostonians. You see, the Bruins have a history of misery. They have lost in their last five trips to the Stanley Cup finals and haven't won championship since 1972. The Celtics remain the most storied franchise in NBA history. But now the Celtics cannot escape the comparisons and connections to the Bruins. Every time they turn on the radio, every time they watch SportsCenter, every time they pick up a newspaper or click on a website, all they hear, see or read is: 'The Celtics are gagging just like the Bruins.' "

  • Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: "There is a time and place for everything. Tonight is the time, and the Garden is the place. It is time for Dwight Howard to be Rambis-ed. Boston may be on the East Coast, but the time has come for the Celtics to employ some frontier justice on the Orlando center after two straight games in which he has felt free to decapitate one guy after another. He tossed Paul Pierce to the floor by his face on one occasion, rapped Kevin Garnett in the forehead with an elbow one time and gave him a face rub on another, and knocked two teeth and all the sense out of Glen Davis’ face in Game 5 on Wednesday night. And those were just the felonious assaults. Never mind the misdemeanors; that rap sheet is longer than Howard’s inseam. It is all well and good to talk of hard fouls and the playoffs being a time to expect them. It is quite another to turn a basketball court into the caged Octagon that made MMA a sport for a new generation. Far be it from me to advocate gratuitous violence, but in the case of the Magic’s elbow-swinging cheap-shot artist, two words come to mind: Why not?"

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Tom Heinsohn has taken issue all series with Orlando center Dwight Howard, who has been called for two flagrant fouls and caused Glen Davis’ concussion Wednesday when he caught him in the face with an elbow. 'I don’t know what’s going on,' Heinsohn said. 'They’ve got to look at this. Howard’s hurting people out there. He threw (Paul) Pierce down, and he threw Perk down in Game 4. (Matt) Barnes pushed KG out of bounds. The ref was right there and didn’t call anything.' The Celtics now face a Game 6 tonight after opening a 3-0 lead in the conference finals. 'This series could be over now, but it could be 3-3 if we can’t muster a full group of people (tonight),' Heinsohn said. 'It’s ridiculous. It’s absolutely ridiculous what they’ve done. If Orlando wins this series, they’re going to call it the greatest comeback in the history of the game, and it’ll be (expletive),' he said. 'The Celtics have proved themselves against this team, but the way this is being officiated is taking it away.' "

  • Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe: "Enough about the zebras. Let’s go back to the numbers. There have been zero 3-0 comebacks in NBA history. Zero. And that covers 93 series since 1947. The Celtics have never come close. They have gone ahead, 3-0, and swept. They have gone ahead, 3-0, lost Game 4, then won the series. But they have never been forced to play a Game 6 after taking a 3-0 lead. Which is another reason we are nervous. And we are already fast-forwarding with our panic. What if they lose tonight? Can they be expected to win a Game 7 on the road after losing three straight? Are the young legs of the Magic running ahead of the old bones of Boston now that the teams are playing games every other day? Are the Celtics healthy? Where’s KG? What happened to Rondo? Can they win without Big Baby? Can they win with Rasheed Wallace and his creaky back? Have they morphed into the team that went 27-27 over the last 54 games, losing all those double-digit leads? Worst of all ... Are the Celtics (gulp) choking? No. Keep your heads. The Celtics failed to close this out in Game 4 at home. They were predictably beaten at Amway Arena in Game 5. But now they are home. And they are better. And they will end this tonight. Or they have a Sunday date with history and humiliation."

  • Chris Forsberg of ESPNBoston.com: "With sources saying the Hornets have offered Tom Thibodeau their head coaching job and the Bulls and Nets reportedly expressing interest, Celtics coach Doc Rivers says his assistant's career options are not a distraction. 'I'm not worried about it,' he said. 'Listen, nobody works harder than Tom Thibodeau, ever. He'd never be distracted from this job.' Thibodeau's defensive prowess has been credited with the Celtics getting past Dwyane Wade and the Heat, LeBron James and the Cavaliers and for pushing the Magic to the brink of playoff extinction."

  • Michael Wilbon of The Washington Post: "For the first time in the series, the real pressure is on the Celtics, down to their final home game. And the tension can be felt throughout New England. Six years after the gloating over the Red Sox' historic achievement of coming from 3-0 down in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, Boston is about to become Choke City. Just a few weeks ago the Big Bad Bruins won the first three games of their series with the Philadelphia Flyers and led 3-0 at home in Game 7 only to lose in regulation to Philly, which is now in the Stanley Cup finals. The Celtics are now on deck and to say they look shaky going into Game 6 might be an understatement."

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Michael Gearon Jr. -- the new Mark Cuban. Just kidding. Gearon is to Cuban as Joni Mitchell is to Lady Gaga. And I’m not trying to suggest Gearon isn’t a conversationalist of the first rank -- he is. Or even that Lady Gaga isn’t talented -- she is. (I love both 'Poker Face' and 'Paparazzi.') I’m making a distinction between understated and overt. The Hawks’ co-owner was fined $25,000 by the NBA on Thursday. It was the lamest fine in the history of jurisprudence. Here was the offending quote: 'If somebody came to us tomorrow and said you can have LeBron for max money and it puts you in the luxury tax, I’d do it in a a heartbeat,' Gearon said. 'But am I going to do that for [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas ? Am I going to do it for Jermaine O’Neal? I don’t think so.' There’s no denying Gearon spoke those words. I heard him. So did about a dozen other reporters. Gearon made the apparently egregious statement standing in the Hawks’ locker room the day after his team was swept by Orlando. These words were so explosive they didn’t surface until 12 days later in Michael Cunningham’s post on AJC.com. Heck, I didn’t even write them down. ... I understand the league is trying to be serious about tampering, but this wasn’t tampering. This was a trifle."

  • William C. Rhoden of The New York Times: "Amadou Gallo Fall walked into his new office, looked out over Mandela Square and pointed to the looming statue of Nelson Mandela. What a great source of inspiration. This was Fall’s first day on the job. With little fanfare, he officially opened the N.B.A.’s first office in Africa as the vice president for development of the league in Africa. Even if there were bells and whistles, no one would have heard them. From Johannesburg to Cape Town, South Africa is being consumed by World Cup fever. Even the office complex, situated in the financial district, has been taken over by FIFA, the international governing body of soccer. Soccer is everywhere, which is precisely why Fall and the N.B.A. chose this moment to open shop. 'The eyes of the world will be here,' he said. The N.B.A. needs exposure in Africa. Fall may have the toughest sports job in Africa. He certainly faces one of the most daunting challenges: planting the N.B.A. flag here and using the league’s enormous global brand to develop basketball on a continent where the game of choice is soccer."