First Cup: Thursday

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: What Oklahoma City did in those final 120 seconds was nothing short of sensational — especially given the style of play this ballgame had been in the first 46 minutes. The Thunder stormed back from a late seven-point deficit to steal a 77-75 win in Game 2 on Wednesday night inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. With the narrow victory, the Thunder preserved home-court advantage and took a 2-0 series lead as this Western Conference semifinal now shifts to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4. Maybe by the time the team lands in L.A., the Thunder will have regained a morsel of its offensive rhythm from Game 1. Wednesday was nothing more than a slugfest, and it was Kevin Durant who delivered the final haymaker, getting a friendly roll on a baseline runner for the go-ahead bucket with 18.6 seconds remaining. Durant's favorable bounce was reminiscent of the shot he willed in against Dallas in the opening game of this playoff run. It was a fitting end to a fabulous final stretch for Durant and the Thunder.

  • Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Times: The Lakers can't recover from this loss. ... the Lakers threw their season away by missing a prime opportunity to steal Game 2. The Lakers won't get swept. They provided a good blueprint moving forward on how to beat the Thunder. But it's not going to matter. Oklahoma City has this series locked up now that it's leading 2-0. The psychological disappointment in squandering a seven-point lead with two minutes remaining will be too overwhelming. It's presumptuous to think the Thunder will shoot 42% from the field and score only 12 third-quarter points again. And Oklahoma City has even more confidence now that it can have its way with the Lakers even in an ugly game it should've lost.

  • Ron Borges of the Boston Herald: Long before anyone was in the gym last night, Paul Pierce shot alone. His eyes were locked on the rim, his jaw set. He spoke to no one. He was a professional preparing to make a point. After 14 minutes he let loose one last bomb from out of bounds and it dropped through the net without touching the rim. He turned and walked away silently, sure of what was to come, which turned out to be a savage beating of the Philadelphia 76ers and a reminder to his critics that while his left knee may be aching he can still be a pain to deal with. By the end of the night the Celtics had gone up 2-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 107-91 win at the Wells Fargo Center that was nowhere near that close, a victory that snatched back homecourt advantage less than 48 hours after it had been lost at the Garden. ... “I just wanted to be aggressive and that’s it,” Pierce said after scoring 24 points, launching 17 shots, grabbing 12 rebounds and going 11-of-14 from the free throw line. “When I’m getting limited to seven shots, nine shots, that’s not me. Whether I was shooting well or not, I was going to be aggressive.” ... Pierce is smart enough to know the leg he’s dragging around isn’t going to be suddenly rejuvenated so he denies the problem, saying last night, “I feel good. I felt good all series.” Then he plots alone, searching for something that will free him not from the pain but from its repercussions, especially the mental ones that can take away your aggressiveness until your game is unrecognizable. That’s the truth these days for Paul Pierce but the consequences may yet be paid by the 76ers, as they were last night, because he’s still fighting for his shot ... and for his team.

  • Phil Sheridan of The Philadelphia Inquirer: The Celtics may have knee problems and foot problems and ankle problems. They may be sore and achy and stiff-legged. But they are still a team with a championship pedigree, a team with legitimate superstars. They were not about to panic after two close games in Boston. If anything, they looked annoyed as they swatted the Sixers, 107-91, Wednesday night. It was just one basket among many. But everything about this game was in a dunk by Paul Pierce in the first quarter. The Celtics' mainstay had missed a couple of layups. His sore knee had left him looking slow and old through the first two games. Now he came driving down the lane, fire in his eyes, and slammed the ball angrily. "That's who he is," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. From that dunk on, the Celtics outscored the Sixers by 20. There is no way to know from Game 3 whether the Celtics have awakened, realized the Sixers could actually win this series and snatched control, or whether Boston emptied its fuel tanks Wednesday night. Game 4 will be the acid test. If the Celtics can rebound with another effort like that in 48 hours, the Sixers are in trouble. Big trouble.

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Clippers forward Blake Griffin jumped over a car to win the dunk contest at the 2011 All-Star Game. Spurs forward Boris Diaw would be hard-pressed to jump over a bicycle. Somehow, the relatively earthbound Diaw managed to minimize Griffin’s effect on Game 1 of the Spurs-Clippers Western Conference semifinal. Griffin needed 17 shots to score 15 points. He had only two offensive rebounds among the nine he grabbed in 28 minutes and 24 seconds. Diaw, who grabbed a playoff career-high 12 rebounds, did his best to keep Griffin from getting close enough to the basket to dunk. “Well, it’s not easy, of course,” Diaw said. “Everybody knows him, the way he’s playing. He’s very athletic, so I try to take some stuff away from him. The main thing with him is to try and keep him outside the paint because as soon as he’s in the paint, he can dunk from anywhere. So try to keep him out.” Griffin is nursing a strained ligament in his left knee, so his edge in athleticism over Diaw has diminished, but he acknowledged Diaw’s bulk made it difficult for him to maneuver in Tuesday’s game.

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: After the Clippers lost by 18 points to the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night, Chris Paul’s two-year old son told his father that he played a good game. Paul didn’t waste a minute correcting him. “No, bad game,” he said. “Daddy had a bad game. Daddy couldn’t make a shot.” After an extensive film session and a short practice Wednesday, Paul’s assessment of his Game 1 performance didn’t change. “We played hard last night, but we didn’t play effective. That’s probably me,” he said. “I didn’t play effective. I’ve got to come out and have a better game.” Paul finished with just six points on 3-of-13 shooting as the Clippers lost, 108-92. Paul did have 10 assists, but he turned the ball over five times. Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said Paul’s strained right hip might be hampering the point guard, but Paul insists he is “fine.” ... While Del Negro wants Chris Paul to be “Chris Paul,” the hip injury probably won’t allow for that to happen every time down the court. “He’s got to pick his spots, I think,” Del Negro said. “He’s not healthy enough to be as aggressive as he would like on either end of the floor.”

  • Hal Habib of the Palm Beach Post: There were plenty of hot topics to debate as the Heat-Pacers series shifted to Indiana for Thursday night's Game 3, ranging from whether Miami was relying on LeBron James too much or not enough. There also was plenty of talk about how no one on the Heat other than James and Dwyane Wade managed to score more than five points Tuesday night, but that was so damning it wasn't up for debate. Too much LeBron James. Or not enough. A "taxing" amount of energy spent by James battling the big men. Too much energy spent by the Indiana Pacers celebrating a big win. Those were some of the hotly debated talking points as the Heat-Pacers series, which is tied at 1-1, shifted from Miami to Indianapolis for Thursday night's Game 3. Oh, there also was plenty of talk about how no one on the Heat other than James and Dwyane Wade managed to score more than five points Tuesday night, but that is so damning it wasn't up for debate. Neither, however, is this: If the Heat's shooters stay as cold as they've been in the series, which is tied 1-1, the speedway won't be the only Brickyard in Indianapolis. The Heat's scoring average has plummeted by 8.4 points per game from the regular season, down to 85.0 against Indiana, and Miami's field-goal percentage has dropped from 43.2 to 37.7.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The Indiana Pacers could be satisfied right now. They beat the Heat in Miami in Game 2 on Tuesday to gain home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Pacers don't look at it that way, though. Their sights are set on higher things. They know that Tuesday's win that evened the playoff series at one game each won't mean anything if they don't protect their home court, starting tonight in Game 3 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Game 4 is Sunday afternoon, also at the fieldhouse. "Now the pressure is on us, I think," Pacers forward Danny Granger said. "Two games on our home court. Home-court advantage is switched in the seven-game series." It only takes a monster scoring game from LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or a poor offensive showing for the Pacers to lose that edge. But if they hold court, the Pacers know -- even though they won't talk about it -- that they'll be on their way to the Eastern Conference finals. If they get past Miami, they would start the next round with home-court advantage, too. The Pacers are 25-11 at home this season, including 2-1 in the playoffs.