First Cup: Wednesday

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Just when the faithful began to believe the Big Three Era was coming to an end, with Rajon Rondo at a local hotel and Ray Allen immaculately dressed on the bench, unable to play for the third week because of bone spurs in his right ankle, what was left of the Celtics responded with a stunning final 15 minutes Tuesday night against the suddenly vulnerable Hawks at Philips Arena. Coach Doc Rivers used nearly his entire bench and then rode the backs of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Avery Bradley as the Celtics stormed back from an 11-point deficit for one of their more impressive performances in recent memory in an 87-80 Game 2 win in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The series is tied at a game apiece and resumes Friday at TD Garden. ... Team president Danny Ainge filled his bench with reserves who have played meaningful minutes in previous stops. While Rivers would have preferred shortening his rotation and going with eight players, he used Ryan Hollins, Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic and Keyon Dooling as early as the second quarter. Rivers has maintained an admiration for his bench all season, although he has been hesitant to play Daniels, Pavlovic, and Hollins significant minutes. Because Mickael Pietrus was erratic and he had to give Garnett and Brandon Bass some rest, Rivers was practically forced to throw his little-used players out there as an experiment.

  • Mark Bradley of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: All of this should have seemed shocking. These being the Hawks, none of it was. Larry Drew didn’t seem disconsolate afterward, saying, “The margin for error is very small in the playoffs,” and suggesting that his fallen team would rise: “We will not hang our heads at this point. We’ll show the world what we’re all about, what we’ve been all about all season.” A cynic would suggest the Hawks had just shown the world what they are, and after such a game it was difficult to offer a rebuttal. As Charles Barkley was heard to say on the big TVs in the Hawks’ locker room: “You have to win that game.” But they didn’t. There have been more deflating nights in the history of these Atlanta Hawks – the Cliff Levingston running lefty hook in 1988, the Game 5 collapse against Milwaukee in 2010, the many homecourt blowouts – but there haven’t been many. Another golden chance, to borrow the Steely Dan word, became another handful of fool’s gold.

  • Marcus Hayes of the Philadelphia Daily News: Jrue Holiday played flawless basketball, the engineer of a 109-92 playoff win over the top seed in the Eastern Conference that evened the series, 1-1. In the biggest game of the season, at 21 he became The Franchise. Holiday made 11 of his first 12 shots, nary a one of them forced, and finished with 26 points on 11-for-15 shooting. Two misses were shot-clock beaters. He had six assists. No turnovers. "He played the perfect game," marveled Elton Brand. "It was excellent. It could be a signature game for him." ... In the last five significant games - the playoff push, then the two games here - Holiday has played his best. Not Turner; not Sweet Lou Williams; not, heaven forbid, Iguodala. Holiday has played like a winner. Like a leader. He has averaged 19.4 points, six more than his season's average to that point. He has averaged 4.8 assists and just 1.2 turnovers. He has shot better than 53 percent. How's that for desire? How's that for wanting to play as many as 28 more games? How's that for taking a franchise by the nose and leading it into the next 10 years? It doesn't get much better than that.

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: You wonder if the Bulls simply went flat after Rose showed up and Jim Cornelison delivered a rousing anthem and adrenaline flowed like beer at a West Side tavern. You wonder if the Bulls expended too much energy early in an amped-up, impressive first quarter when they shared the ball and defended like normal. You wonder why the 76ers handled the unique psychological circumstances their more experienced hosts couldn't. Maybe it was because Sixers coach Doug Collins pushed more right buttons than Thibodeau by making two lineup changes. Or because Collins prepared his team better mentally than Thibodeau for the early onslaught of emotion, a surge Collins expected from reading cues like the one provided by a former player. In a 1,484-word open letter to Bulls players and fans on the team website, Scottie Pippen referenced the 1994 playoff run without Michael Jordan and urged optimism absent since Rose's injury cast a pall over a sports city — a feeling unlikely to leave town now. "You're still the best team in the NBA until an opponent proves otherwise,'' Pippen wrote. "So go out there and play like it.'' The Bulls missed his memo, not to mention an opportunity they already regret.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: When the Nuggets play the Lakers at Staples Center, it's often reminiscent of two guys fighting for a girl. There's the nice guy who's hanging around, never seemingly having an edge, but still in the mix. And then there's the dude who just knows. He's going to get the girl. And he gets the girl. The Nuggets made a late push Tuesday in Game 2, making the courtside celebs peek up from their smartphones for a moment. But in the end, all was status quo in La La Land, the Lakers winning 104-100 as the Nuggets went down 0-2 against L.A. in the first round of the playoffs. Kobe was Kobe. The Lakers' luminary was locked in. "In the first half, Kobe made shots that were undefendable," said Nuggets coach George Karl. "(In Game 3) the double-teams will be there, but I don't think they'll be consistent."

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: Imagine being the Denver Nuggets, so beat down by the Lakers' big men Sunday in Game 1 their only defense Tuesday in Game 2 was the unthinkable. Kobe Bryant, single coverage? Wait, what? So your answer to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol is to - gulp - put one defender on one of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen? And hope he has an off-shooting night? In an effort to cut down the Lakers' inside size advantage, you not only hand Kobe Bryant the keys to Staples Center, you also give him an American Express Gold card and tell him to knock himself out. Talk about being free to roam around the cabin. If that is the Nuggets' answer against the Lakers, maybe it's time they rethink the question. "They picked their poison," Lakers guard Ramon Sessions.

  • Geoff Calkins of The Commercial-Appeal: For the last two days, the Grizzlies have been sticking with a familiar mantra: They're a team that plays best when faced with adversity. That's a nice thing to say, when adversity arrives as emphatically as it did Sunday. We're about to find out if it's true. The same goes for the fan base, while I'm at it. Everyone knows what maniacs Grizzlies fans can be. But what's the building going to be like after Sunday's stunner? Did the meltdown weaken the civic belief? This is new territory, for the franchise. This is a new challenge and a new year. "We always play our best when our backs are against the wall," said Gay. Tonight, I guess we'll see.

  • Baxter Holmes of the Los Angeles Times: A three-lane street here separates the hotel where the Clippers are staying and the FedEx Forum where they're playing. Nick Young has made that short trek earlier than some of his teammates in the last two days. He's trying to get ready. The Clippers guard is expected to start in place of injured starting small forward Caron Butler when his team plays Game 2 of its Western Conference first-round playoff series against the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. The Clippers lead the series, 1-0. Starting would be a different role for Young, who started just three games for the Clippers after coming to the team in a trade March 15. But he's has been effective off the bench for much of the regular season. ... "He had a big role for us in Game 1 and he's going to have a bigger role now that Caron is out," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said Tuesday. Though Young is expected to start in place of Butler, who suffered a fractured left hand Sunday, it's not certain that Young will play the nearly 30 minutes per game Butler averaged during the regular season. Veteran forward Bobby Simmons might also play some small forward.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The search party to help the Indiana Pacers rediscover their identity was called off during the third quarter in Game 2 on Monday night. The Pacers went back to working harder than their opponent during their 30-point third quarter in a 15-point victory over the Orlando Magic. Now the question is simple: Can the Pacers carry their second-half success to tonight's Game 3 at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.? "We can't have any mental breakdowns," point guard Darren Collison said. "We can't think just because we won one game (that) we can relax a little bit. We have to push the intensity up a little bit more." The Pacers have to "push the intensity" because even though they evened the series at 1, the Pacers need to win tonight or Saturday's Game 4 to reclaim home-court advantage in the best-of-seven series.

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: Enjoy the time you have left with him, Orlando fans, because this may be the last year we ever see him in a Magic uniform. The team captain and team leader may be playing somewhere else next year. The man who has been the heart and soul of the Orlando Magic for the past eight years — the first-round draft pick who Magic executives hoped would help lead the franchise to a championship — soon may be gone. No, not Dwight Howard. Jameer Nelson. At this point, he's the only team captain the Magic have left. With Dwight out in L.A. rehabbing his back, it's up to Jameer now to somehow try to lead this undermanned team to an improbable conquest of the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the NBA playoffs. But, sadly, this may be his last postseason with the Magic. Nelson has a player option for the 2012-13 season that gives him the right to sign a free agent contract elsewhere if he so chooses. He can either opt in with the Magic for one more season and earn about $7.8 million or opt out and test the free-agent market. He will need to make this decision and declare his intentions within a week of the Magic's final playoff game. ... While Dwight is the one who talks about being the leader of the team, Jameer is the one who acts like it. He's the one who gets his teammates together in his hometown of Philly for offseason basketball and bonding. Dwight builds his brand during the summer; Jameer builds his team. So enjoy the time you have left with him, Orlando fans. Dwight may be the Magic's Man of Steel with the red cape. But Jameer is the Man of Real with the blue collar.

  • Steve Luhm of The Salt Lake Tribune: The Jazz must stop the snow atop the Wasatch Mountains from melting. They must put the toothpaste back in the tube. When Utah’s first-round NBA playoff series against San Antonio continues Wednesday night, the Jazz have a seemingly impossible task. They must contain Tony Parker. San Antonio’s do-it-all point guard scored 28 points and handed out eight assists during the Spurs’ 106-91 win in Game 1. If he dominates again, the Jazz will have a snowball’s chance in south Texas of tying this best-of-seven series. Parker does everything for the Spurs, who won 50 games during the lockout-shortened season and are the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Parker runs the pick-and-roll with perfection. He gets to the basket and scores. He breaks down defenses and creates opportunities for others. He finds open teammates like Tim Duncan diving to the basket or Manu Ginobili standing unopposed at the 3-point line. Before the Jazz practiced Tuesday morning, coach Tyrone Corbin compared Parker to Hall of Famer John Stockton, as far as being a control-the-game point guard.

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: Utah guard Devin Harris said that the Jazz planned to combat Tony Parker with a more physical style of defense after the Spurs’ point guard ripped through them for 28 points and eight assists in the Spurs’ Game 1 victory. Parker said Tuesday that Harris’ plans aren’t anything he hasn’t heard before from other opponents during the playoffs. “It’s not the first time that somebody said that,” Parker said. “You know my answering is always going to be the same … that I’ll keep coming and going in the same way. Still being aggressive and in attack mode.” Spurs forward-guard Stephen Jackson jokingly said that the best way to stop Parker would be to kidnap him. That response illicited a chuckle from Parker when he learned about it. “That’s what he said? He’s crazy,” Parker said. “I think the main focus is to stay focused and stay on what we have to do to beat Utah. I’m not going to get involved in all that. I have to look at the bigger picture and do what I need to do to help my team win.”

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The "Magic/Bird" Broadway play about the lives of former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson and Bird, the Pacers president, will close May 12, the producers announced. The run will have consisted of 23 preview performances and 38 regular performances.