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First Cup: Monday

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: "Take a stroll through Manhattan on a warm weekend day and you can find any number of street-corner philosophers willing to explain the meaning of life. Cruise through Washington Square Park and you can get a chess match with your dissertation. But as the Celtics flew home last night with a 101-89 Game 4 victory and a series sweep, even the wise basketball folks around Madison Square Garden were struggling to put the accomplishment into perspective. And they had no interest in chess. How much did we learn about these Celts as they eliminated a mediocre team with two major stars? A team where one of those stars, Amare Stoudemire, was limited from Game 2 on? A team missing its rudder, point guard Chauncey Billups, for the last three games? And what does it say for their chances in the expected series with Miami? After winning four games, Paul Pierce didn’t want to get involved in that one. 'I don’t really like to play the ‘What if?’ game,' he said. 'I mean, I could sit here and tell you, ‘What if Shaq played? ... What if JO (Jermaine O’Neal) was 100 percent? I mean, it is what it’s going to be. That’s all we can control. Whoever they put out there, whoever we put out there, that’s who’s going to play the game. At the end of the day, whoever wins moves on.' "

  • Harvey Araton of The New York Times: "In closing down Madison Square Garden one day after the Rangers succumbed in Washington, the Knicks allowed those fans who will be able to stomach the skyrocketing cost of a ticket next fall to at least return hopeful that it was injuries as much as unfamiliarity and inferiority that pushed the Knicks’ streak without a playoff victory to a decade. From where the Garden president, James L. Dolan, sat courtside, his insistence that Carmelo Anthony be acquired at any cost -- no matter what alternative scheme the team’s president, Donnie Walsh, had devise -- was no doubt justified. 'I would think that with him and Carmelo going forward, the Knicks are in good shape,' Coach Mike D’Antoni said of the forward cornerstones after the Celtics let the Knicks cut their deficit from 23 points to 4 before pulling away to a 101-89 victory. Curiously, D’Antoni avoided the use of a personal pronoun. Maybe he knows something about Walsh’s cloudy status and by extension his own. More likely, he was echoing Stoudemire, who upon signing last summer declared that 'the Knicks are back,' then went about the gritty business of restoring them as a credible franchise."

  • Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times: "Kobe Bryant did one of the few interviews ever conducted in a trainer's room, sitting on a padded table after sustaining what the team officially called a sprained left ankle, though Bryant indicated it was more of a foot injury. He was injured whiledefending Willie Green with 1:32 to play. He was moving across the lane when his foot buckled under him without any contact. Two crutches were propped against the wall in the trainer's room. He then used them to leave the arena and board the team bus. ... He said he would undergo treatment on the plane ride back to Los Angeles immediately after the game. The team was planning an MRI exam or X-rays as a precaution. ... The Lakers might not be so good. At all. Game 5 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday at Staples Center. Like it or not, the Lakers have to return here for Game 6 on Thursday. They were thumped by the smaller Hornets, getting outrebounded, 39-32, and pummeled in second-chance points, 20-4. 'We got punked out there on the court tonight and gave them 20 second-chance points,' Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said."

  • Jimmy Smith of The Times-Picayune: "His left thumb and wrist wrapped with black stretch tape, a butterfly closure binding a wound on the outside of his right eye, New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul was undaunted Sunday night, a raucous New Orleans Arena sellout crowd of 18,083 helping surge the adrenaline coursing through his veins. Weaving his way through the forest that is the Lakers’ front line, working his magic by setting up open teammates, chasing down long rebounds and hitting pressure-filled jump shots, Paul put together the second postseason triple-double of his career, leading the Hornets to a pulsating 93-88 victory, squaring the Western Conference playoff series at 2-2 and ensuring a sixth game in New Orleans Arena on Thursday night. The teams play Tuesday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Paul finished with 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds."

  • Ashley Fox of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "In the grand scheme of the series, the win probably means nothing more than the Sixers will have three more practices, one more shootaround, and another game at Miami. But for Doug Collins and his young team, the win means everything. It validated what Collins has been telling his players, that they were close; they just needed to pay more attention to the details, like getting on the offensive glass and getting out in transition. It showed the players that they could hang with one of the most talented teams in the NBA, that they, too, could hit the big shots when it mattered. And it gave the team confidence and something off which to build. It is not a series win, but for this team at this point in the franchise's resurrection, it isn't nothing, either. Collins was about as pleased as he could be. This is what he dreamed about when he took the Sixers coaching job last year. The fans were loud, clapping their ThunderStix, waving their white rally towels and chanting, 'Let's go, Sixers.' His team played hard, rushing to a 16-point second-quarter lead and not collapsing after the Heat went on a 22-2 run to take a 45-41 lead just before halftime. ... Now, they live to play another day. It might not mean a lot in the grand scheme of things, but it meant a whole lot to the 59-year-old man who coaches the team."

  • Israel Gutierrez of The Miami Herald: "If the Heat recovers in Game 5 and closes out the series Wednesday, this Game 4 failure won’t have a lingering effect. There won’t be persistent questions about whether Spoelstra trusts Mike Bibby and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (a combined one point in 24 minutes), or whether the Heat’s shortened rotation will mean trouble later. That’s the way the playoffs work. The Heat wasn’t going to rid itself of games like this just because the calendar says late April. How many more of these clunkers are left is the bigger question. For the time being, it’s safe to call it a minor inconvenience."

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: "Say what you will about these Hawks, and by now we’ve said it all, usually with a few choice words interspersed. That they’re sloppy with a lead. That they often act as if basketball was a sport scored on degree of difficulty. That they lead the world in keeping both teams in the game. But here’s something we haven’t been able to say about any Hawks team since 1970: That it leads a best-of-seven series 3-1. Also this: That it’s one game from winning a playoff series in which it didn’t hold the homecourt edge for the first time since 1996. Also this: That in taking Game 4 on Sunday it made you want to tear out your hair. The Hawks are so much better than the Magic that the wonder isn’t that Orlando is facing elimination; the wonder is that the Magic still have a game to play. ... Credit the Hawks for taking their break and wringing three victories from it. A fourth should be forthcoming, but here we emphasize 'should.' Because these are the Hawks, and they’re a strange crew. They’re so strange the 50-win Magic haven’t yet found a way to handle them."

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: "Hate to say it, but it might just be time for the most dreaded four words in the Magic playoff vernacular: Gentlemen, start your razors. Before the Magic began the 2011 NBA playoffs, players vowed not to shave until the postseason was over and fans throughout Central Florida began the rallying cry ... 'Fear the Beard!' Now, after yet another nail-biting, heart-breaking loss to the Atlanta Hawks that has put the Magic in a nearly hopeless 3-1 hole, it's getting closer and closer to a time when 'Fear the Beer' might be a more appropriate mantra. After all, it probably won't be long now before Magic fans everywhere are drowning their sorrows following what is quickly turning into an depressingly disappointing season. But there is one positive. Hey, Magic fans, did you see Gilbert Arenas Sunday night? What's it tell you about this series when the Magic can't beat the Hawks when Dwight Howard scores 46 points in Game 1 and when Arenas rises from the ashes to score to score 20 in Game 4? Maybe it's just not meant to be. Maybe just maybe the Hawks, who have now beaten the Magic six of eight times this season, are just the better team."

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: "There's only one way to sum up the Grizzlies' first postseason appearance in five years: They are exorcising a number of playoff demons at the San Antonio Spurs' expense. Yet the Grizzlies don't seem to be caught up in the histrionics surrounding their 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 tonight at FedExForum. Griz coach Lionel Hollins wouldn't allow his troops to succumb to the pressure of owner Michael Heisley's playoff guarantee. The Griz were numb to the franchise's 0-12 postseason record before this series began. And now that the eighth-seeded Griz are halfway toward scoring an upset over the top-seeded Spurs, there's this banner hanging over the best-of-seven, first-round match-up: The NBA playoffs have seen the winner of Game 3 go on to win the series 76 percent of the time. It's notable and also something else Hollins dismisses with laughter. If you think that expectations have shifted in the series then you haven't kept pace with these Grizzlies. 'We've stayed in the moment all season,' Hollins said. 'We've talked about how you can't worry about what's to come and you can't worry about what happened. All you can talk about is what's at hand. What's at hand is a game (tonight).' "

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "They are halfway to becoming just the second No. 1 seed in the best-of-7 era to be bounced by an eight seed, and if Zach Randolph’s relentlessness in the paint isn’t enough to keep them up at night, his newly discovered 3-point stroke is. 'Our backs are against the wall,' said McDyess, who expects to play tonight despite a compressed nerve in his neck. 'We need to come out and play with some type of anger, some type of passion. We can’t go down 3-1.' Sleepless in Memphis, the Spurs are content to know, for now, they still have a reason to get up in the morning. They move on to a Game 4 tonight at FedEx Forum that Duncan has labeled a 'must-win.' Though history might hint otherwise -- the Spurs have come back from a 2-1 deficit to win a series just once before -- this series is not over. Not by a long shot. ... Heading into Game 4, the Spurs still have life. Return from Memphis with the series tied 2-2, and everything shifts again. Suddenly, the pressure is on the Grizzlies, the Spurs are in control and order is restored to the Western Conference playoffs. That is the Spurs’ reason for getting up in the morning. Metaphorically speaking, they can sleep when they are dead, and they aren’t dead yet."

  • Eddie Sefko of The Dallas Morning News: "Everybody connected with the NBA has become entranced by the Mavericks' series against Portland. That's how quickly it can capture the imagination of people. Had the Mavericks not coughed up the 23-point lead on Saturday, this series would be 3-1 and the Blazers would be an afterthought at this point. Instead, it's Game On. As Charles Barkley of TNT emphasized, 'it's going to be interesting. I can't wait for that next game with Dallas.' The problem is that the 23-point lead wasn't the only big edge the Mavericks surrendered already in this series. Had they closed out that game and gone up 3-1 instead of falling into a 2-2 tie, the Mavericks could be on the verge of closing out the first-round series with Portland on Monday and would have at least five days of rest to look forward to before the second round begins. Instead, they will play at least until Thursday and would most likely have a game on the weekend, whether it's against the Blazers in Game 7 or the Lakers or Hornets in Game 1 of the second round. Basically, the old team is going to have precious little time to catch its breath."

  • Jason Quick of The Oregonian: "All told, despite winning at least 50 games each season, Dallas has been eliminated in the first round in three of the past four seasons. A developing trait in those playoff exits has been a lack of toughness, both mentally and physically. So naturally, the Dallas media on Saturday questioned the Mavericks' resolve. Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was matter-of-fact when asked if he could defend the notion that his team lacks toughness. 'At this point, it's not about talk of defending this, or defending that,' Carlisle said. 'The biggest thing is we have to get ourselves ready for Game 5, which is now a very pivotal game in our arena, and we need our fans to be like (Portland) fans here.' Portland coach Nate McMillan said the only thing decided Saturday was that there would be a Game 6 in Portland, on Thursday. 'The pressure is on really both of us,' McMillan said. 'But we know that we will come home to play a game. And now, Game 5 is very important for them.' "

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: "True, an NBA team has never trailed 3-0 and won, but one team that came close was, yes, the 1994 Nuggets. They played the Jazz and, after losing a disheartening Game 3 in overtime, Denver regrouped, winning the next three -- including the elimination Game 5 in Utah. Denver lost the series in seven games. And, of course, there are glimmers of hope from other sports. Three NHL teams have won a series after losing the first three games, most recently the Flyers a season ago. And, famously, the 2004 Boston Red Sox did the same thing. Asked about the Red Sox's accomplishment, however, J.R. Smith said: 'This ain't baseball. I don't think it's harder, it's basketball. Different circumstances.' But with a certain someone on the roster, it's understood that Denver will at least grit its teeth tonight. 'We can't fall apart. It's not over yet,' said Kenyon Martin, the passionate team captain. 'It might feel that way to a certain degree, but it's not.' "

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: "His Nuggets face elimination Monday in Game 4, and even though Karl has pulled every string possible and pushed every button imaginable, nothing has worked in this series. Not calling the Thunder cocky. Not throwing every available body possible at Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Not playing the woe-is-me card after a blown goaltending call in Game 1. Not professing confidence that returning to Denver would remedy all ills after Game 2. I guess someone's got to provide playoff tomfoolery once Phil Jackson retires. Scott Brooks isn't auditioning for that gig. What Mr. Straight-and-Narrow is doing is getting the better of this coaching matchup. 'He's been real consistent with his message all year,' Thunder veteran Nick Collison said. 'You can probably tell by how we talk to the media -- we're always saying the same things over and over again -- but it's what's preached to us every day. I think that consistency's big.' It has been huge during this playoff series. The Thunder didn't panic when the Nuggets jumped to a big lead in Game 1. Ditto for when it gave up a big lead in Game 2. And being able to win in a hostile road environment despite not playing great basketball in Game 3? That was all about keeping your head on straight."

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: "Whatever happens Tuesday night in the Madhouse on Madison -- as opposed to the Madhouse Near Meridian, as was the case Saturday afternoon -- this was a victory the Pacers absolutely deserved. They've done too many good things, played the Bulls too tough in every game, to have history remember them as the victims of just another first-round sweep. The Bulls won the first three games by a total of 15 points. The Pacers won Saturday by five points. This thing isn't in the same area code as over. Though, just in case, Pacers president Larry Bird might ask commissioner David Stern to reduce the length of games to, say, 45 minutes the rest of the playoffs. 'Let's face it, even though we were up 3-0, we are not playing good basketball,' Chicago's Kyle Korver said. 'Maybe it's time for a reality check.' Reality? Here's the reality: For all the grousing in Chicago about how the Bulls have 'played down' to their competition, these Pacers have come of age and are a whole lot better than most of us believed."

  • Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times: "The Bulls confined their workout Sunday to film study and a walkthrough. Which meant that Derrick Rose, who wore a walking boot to help his sprained left ankle heal, didn’t miss anything. The MVP front-runner seldom does. 'He says he’s fine,’ coach Tom Thibodeau said, adding that trainer Fred Tedeschi ‘says he has a little soreness, but he says he’s fine. The swelling’s not bad.’ Although an X-ray already was negative, Rose left the Berto Center after practice for a precautionary MRI exam. He is expected to be ready when the Bulls, who are up 3-1, try to close out the Indiana Pacers at the United Center on Tuesday. Tipoff has been set at 7 p.m. 'Knowing Derrick, he’s going to play,’ forward Taj Gibson said. ‘I know he’s not going to sit out a big-time game like this.’ Pencil in Rose, who played 431/2 minutes even though he rolled the ankle making a hard cut to the basket late in the first quarter, to play through the problem. In case Rose needs more breaks, though, backup point guard C.J. Watson could see more playing time."