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First Cup: Tuesday

  • Randy Galloway of Fort Worth Star-Telegram: "So, these Western Conference Finals took a massive U-turn in downtown Oklahoma City. The Mavericks went up 3-1 in the series and can go for the kill, and for a trip to the NBA Finals, on Wednesday back home. Was it a gallant Mavs rally that did it Monday night, or was it as bad a collapse by the Thunder as the NBA has witnessed in a conference finals? Call it a little bit of both, but in the end it was a crazy, stupid, no-way, in-your-bleeping-dreams kind of victory for the Mavericks. Move over, Game 1 in LA, this one beats that one, only because that one was three weeks ago. A blessed playoff run continues."

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: "Now we know. Now we know why experience matters. Now we know why you've got to pay your dues. Now we know why young teams, no matter how good, no matter how talented, now matter how athletic, no matter how blessed, eventually get derailed in this meat-grinder known as the NBA playoffs. The old Mavericks beat the young Thunder 112-105 in overtime for the simplest of reasons. The tortoise kept running. The hare, not so much. Ahead 99-84 with less than five minutes left, the Thunder choked. Stopped short of the finish line in a game it had to win for any reasonable hope of reaching the NBA Finals. Now, the Mavs have a three games to one lead in this series and seem perfectly capable of ending this with a gentle push in Game 5 Wednesday night."

  • Jenni Carlson of The Oklahoman: "On a night the Mavs took a commanding 3-1 lead in the Western Conference Finals, overcoming a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit and winning in overtime, the Thunder got the best and the worst from Durant. His 29-point, 15-reboundperformance was almost a triple-double. Had he committed one more turnover, he would’ve had it. Yep, Durant had nine turnovers. Egad. Durant sat in his postgame conference, hand on his head, looking as down as he had in the final moments of overtime. ... Durant scored 14 points in the first quarter but then managed only 15 points the rest of the game. He had none in overtime. His mission now? 'Try to bring it back here to OKC,' he said flatly. Who knows whether that will happen? Dallas is surging. Oklahoma City is reeling. But know this -- this game wounded Durant. Cut him deep. Hurt him bad. There will come a day when that wound will become a scar. There will also come a day when that scar will be motivation to make amends for what happened in Game 4, to never feel again the disappointment that he felt at the end of Monday night."

  • Mark Norris of The Dallas Morning News: "There was no way this group of die-hard Mavericks fans were going to bed. Not after a stunning fourth-quarter comeback that resulted in a 112-105 overtime win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals. A crowd of nearly 200 people welcomed the team back at a private facility on the east side of Dallas Love Field, with cheers erupting when the Mavericks team plane landed around 1:30 a.m. ... Moments after the plane landed, players and coaches were driving their cars through a tunnel formed by fans near the parking lot exit. Fans eagerly snapped pictures as owner Mark Cuban , and players like Dirk Nowitzki, Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea all waved and smiled at the crowd."

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: "On the playground courts, it’s the ultimate insult, the nuclear bomb. At its kindest, it means you’re a wuss. You’d think by now someone would have come up with something different, something more creative, something dealing with another topic. I’ve never quite understood why someone’s sexuality matters to anybody else, but here we are in 2011 talking about one player’s ugly reaction to a fan. Noah’s immediate, visceral response was to call the person an anti-gay slur. In the heat of the moment, at the height of his anger and frustration, he lashed out. Sometimes sticking the knife in farthest is the only goal, the mess be damned. But he needs to ask himself why. The NBA fined Noah $50,000 Monday, half of what it had fined Bryant. Noah’s sin was worse. No matter how provoked a player might be, he can’t insult the paying customer. What happened Sunday is an example of athletes’ disconnect, and commissioner David Stern should have jumped all over it. Players tend to forget that the people in the seats are paying their contracts. Conversely, the people in the seats forget they’re not playing in the game. Noah wouldn’t reveal what the fan had said to provoke his outburst, other than there was 'no question’ it had crossed the line."

  • Dave D’Alessandro of The Star-Ledger: "Bulls center Joakim Noah was fined $50,000 on Monday for uttering two syllables that he seemed mortified to admit had escaped from his own mouth, much less have captured on videotape. There’s not much to say about this incident from Game 3 Sunday night, of course. The kid made a mistake -- first by acknowledging the idiot, and certainly in his choice of rejoinder -- and it was wise that his apology was both immediate and sincere. That’s not to excuse the slur, but the impressive thing about the epilogue was that Noah stood in a hotel ballroom Monday and almost completely exonerated the guy who made his bad night even worse."

  • Jeff Miller of The Orange County Register: "The NBA blew it. Period. The league that loves to tell us how progressive it is blew it Monday when it fined Joakim Noah only $50,000 for shouting the same gay slur that cost Kobe Bryant $100,000. All the good the NBA did in the aftermath of the Bryant incident -- which included Kobe speaking out about intolerance -- was just compromised. And why? The league said the discrepancy in the fines was because Bryant directed his remark toward a game official and Noah toward a fan. Well, we’d argue that the NBA should not only be just as concerned about the treatment of its fans as its referees but even more concerned. Not that the league would listen to us. It already has everything figured out."

  • Mike Berardino of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: "This whole episode has me wondering again how much abuse professional athletes must take just because they're the ones making millions of dollars. And why do some people feel the need to take out their frustrations on these famous strangers? These are entertainers, right? No different than movie stars or musicians. Well, if some geeked-up psycho showed up on a public movie set and sprayed profane and abusive language at one of the actors, how long do you think that person would be allowed to remain? Yeah, I know, fans pay the freight. I get that. I know those courtside seats aren't cheap. But where is the line between humorous heckling and venomous insult? They don't allow that sort of thing at golf or tennis tournaments. So why are the protections so limited for those who play football, baseball or basketball for a living? And what about all the people sitting nearby who have to listen to that sort of garbage, many of them with children? Why must they be left to feel just as uncomfortable as the heckler's target?"

  • Dan Le Batard of The Miami Herald: "Where does an angry Heat fan, frustrated by not having a rebuttal voice, put his passion when he feels like everybody in America is rooting against his team? He balls it up and throws it at the media’s head. 'I’m going to say what the hell I want to say,' Barkley says. 'Some people are going to like it, and some people are going to go to hell. If you don’t like my opinion, turn off your TV or kiss my [expletive]. A or B?' This isn’t the nicest way to put it, obviously. But it is also so very Barkley and what makes him unlike anybody in sports television. Humans are multidimensional. They are no one action. So Barkley is neither a jerk nor a saint. What he is, almost always, is real, flaws and all. He can be exceedingly kind to strangers, or he can throw one of them through a plate-glass window when he feels disrespected (and then tell the judge that his only regret was that they weren’t on the second bleeping floor when he did it). He is taking on the role of professional-wrestling villain in Miami, a hero elsewhere but a heel here, but the swirling passion around sports isn’t really hate, no matter how loud it gets, no matter how many T-shirts whiz past Barkley’s head."

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: "I may have gotten to know Cho as well as any member of the Portland media and enjoyed our conversations. There was no condescending air as eminates from some in pro sports management. He was careful with everything he said, but he was truthful with what he felt comfortable revealing. There’s a lot to be said for that. The Blazers knew they would take a pounding from their fans and those around the league for this, their second firing of a GM inside a year. Was it necessary to fire Cho before he even really got started on the job? ... Down the road, we’ll see if getting rid of Rich Cho represents progress. For now, it just looks as if he got a bum deal, with the pot calling the kettle black."

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: "The formula for longevity at One Center Court was unveiled on Monday. Sure, it was disguised as a news conference announcing the firing of general manager Rich Cho after 10 months, but it was there, plain as day, for the next guy. Don't be awkward. And also, hope the awkward owner likes you. Also, keep your head down, and smile, and shake hands. Sell your home and move your family to Portland, as Cho did a few months ago. Print up business cards and hand them out. Mostly, though, yuk it up with the big brains at Vulcan Inc., best you can. (Read: Nod a lot when they talk to you.) Paul Allen wadded up another general manager on Monday. That's two in 10 months. In the end, he looks a little Al Davis-nutty, a little Jerry Jones-smothering. You decide which. The pattern here is disturbing and dysfunctional. The Blazers are going nowhere like this. And the temptation today is to wonder which young executive Allen will hire/fire next. Interim GM Chad Buchanan, good luck -- now pack your bags, because you're on the clock."

  • Matt Calkins of The Columbian: "A Portland-based sports radio show began its broadcast Monday with circus music, insinuating that the Blazers shakeups in the front office had reached the point of absurdity. Larry Miller was asked if he expects fallout from fans who suspect the organization may be spiraling out of control. 'I would just hope the fans would look at the results we've had over the last few years,' Miller said."

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: "The man the Trail Blazers need to hire to run their basketball operations has sat in the chair before. That’s Geoff Petrie, Sacramento’s senior vice president/operations the past 17 seasons. ... Owner Paul Allen worked well with Petrie during his time with the Blazers and retains great respect for the man who was instrumental to the club’s success in the early 1990s. So, too, do many of those who worked with Petrie and/or know him well. Three employees in the Blazer organization told me in separate conversations Monday that Petrie would be a perfect fit to replace Rich Cho as general manager. The Kings are in limbo, remaining in Sacramento after ownership’s intended move to Anaheim was blocked by the league for at least one more season. It can’t be a stable situation for Petrie and wife Anne-Marie, who both enjoyed their time in Portland. There’s no need for Allen’s senior management group to take its time naming Cho’s successor. The best candidate is 580 miles down the road in northern California."

  • Jason Reid of The Washington Post: "The Wizards currently hold the sixth and 18th selections in the first round of the June 23 draft, and pick fourth (34th overall) in the second round. They have a glaring need at power forward, and upgrading at the wing forward and center positions would help as well, so Grunfeld could go in many directions. Regardless of the path he chooses, however, improving Washington’s defense should be high on Grunfeld’s checklist. Whatever Grunfeld devises in an attempt to continue the progress owner Ted Leonsis expects, it had better include something for Washington to fare better at slowing opponents on offense. Defense should be on Grunfeld’s mind whenever he reads scouting reports or analyzes video of top prospects. And if players express lack of interest in defense during pre-draft interviews, Grunfeld’s interest in them should wane. The need for a major shift in defensive thinking is long overdue. It’s as clear as another blown rotation by Andray Blatche. During Grunfeld’s eight-year tenure, Washington has been awful defensively, consistently finishing among the league’s worst in opponent field-goal percentage. Even during their stretch of four consecutive postseason appearances from 2004-05 to 2007-08, the Wizards never ranked higher than 20th in that key category and once finished 27th in the 30-team league."

  • Chris Iott of Booth Newspapers: "Isaiah Thomas was named after Isiah Thomas. But it was not because his parents were huge fans of the Detroit Pistons. Just the opposite, in fact. Isaiah Thomas, a point guard from the University of Washington, earned his first name because his father lost a bet. 'My dad is from Inglewood, California, so he was a big Lakers fan growing up,' Thomas said last week at the NBA predraft camp in Chicago. 'He had a little bet with his friend that if Detroit beat the Lakers then he'd name his son Isiah Thomas. It happened.' His first name is spelled different than the legendary Pistons guard's first name for a reason, Thomas said. 'My mom liked the name,' he said, 'but she wanted it spelled the biblical way.' Isaiah Thomas said he knows Isiah Thomas very well."