First Cup: Monday

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: Let me take you back to May 7, 1989, the day Chicago's Michael Jordan lifted skyward for The Shot over Cleveland's Craig Ehlo, the shot that catapulted his career into the next stratosphere. After the game, Cleveland center Brad Daugherty sat in the Cavs' funereal locker room and shook his head. All he could say was this: "We got beat by greatness." Today, it can be said again after the Miami Heat's 101-93 Game 4 victory over the Indiana Pacers, a game that tied this heated Eastern Conference semifinal series at two games apiece. They got beat by greatness. What else can you say? How else do you deconstruct a game the Miami Heat absolutely had to win, lest they spend the next few months contemplating coach Erik Spoelstra's future and the possible dissolution of the Big Three? LeBron James: 40 points, 18 rebounds (six offensive) and nine assists. Dwyane Wade: After a tepid first half, he finished with 30 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Sometimes, there's not much an opponent can do.

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: It might have been a lesson that we saw being delivered in that third quarter Sunday, or it might have been simply a reminder. Either way, it was this: Do not doubt the resolve and power of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Just don’t. Trust it instead. Trust it because they have earned your faith. Mostly, trust it because it is all you have. This time it was enough. Astoundingly, stunningly so. James and Wade combined to put on an epic show Sunday, especially in that third quarter that changed everything — everything — and it is why all of the panic and gloom that had been enveloping the Heat went into sudden remission in the 101-93 Miami victory that leveled this second-round NBA playoff series at two games apiece. All at once the Earth has regained its axis and the Heat appears back in control, with two of the three remaining scheduled games back in Miami starting with Tuesday’s Game 5. All-is-hell turns to all-is-well, or close enough for Heat fans.

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: It appeared Sunday the Clippers would extend the Spurs. Blake Griffin needed stitches, and Chris Paul seemed to sew up the rest. The Spurs trailed by five with about five minutes left. Then, with Tim Duncan’s knee holding up, he made two free throws. Found Manu Ginobili on a cut.Tossed in a driving hook over Griffin. Found Tony Parker on a cut. And blocked Paul. What happened? “Perseverance,” Duncan said afterward. “We stuck with it. We kept moving the ball and believing what we were doing.” Parker acted the way Elliott did in 1999. Asked what the sweep meant, he said, “Doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t accomplish anything.” But what about the 18-game winning streak? “Don’t think about that,” he said. He’s right. The last team to sweep the first two playoff series, the Orlando Magic in 2010, didn’t win the title. Still, the Spurs needed to face some playoff tension, because there will be some in the conference finals. Duncan said that. “It was great to have a close game like this,” Duncan said. “Good for our young guys.” But it might have been better for the old guy. Duncan will get a few days off, and nothing will be more appreciative than his knee.

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the the Los Angeles Daily News: The loss to the Spurs will sting, but shouldn't linger. And once they realize the gap separating themselves from the elite teams in the NBA requires some tinkering but not a complete overhaul, they will be better-positioned to make decisions that will help close that gap. First and foremost, they need to bring Del Negro back for another year. The decision rests in the hands of general manager Neil Olshey and owner Donald Sterling. The Clippers hold an option on him for next season and they should honor it. It became blasé to knock Del Negro this year. His lack of experience and his rocky two-year stint in Chicago prior to taking over the Clippers made him an easy target for critics who questioned everything from his rotation to his ability to make adjustments and develop young players. But this much we do know: His team played hard for him throughout, and that should mean something. It could have given up against Memphis after the injuries to Paul and Griffin and after losing Game 6 at home to force a long trip back to Memphis and a hostile environment in Game 7. Del Negro had his team up for that challenge, and the Clippers defied odds to beat the Grizzlies on their floor and advance to the semifinals. That stands for something, and it should get Del Negro at least one more season to coach this team under normal circumstances and with a more stable roster.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: All postseason, Oklahoma City has closed out games in grand fashion. The Lakers, in Game 4, simply became the latest victim of the Thunder and its ability to storm back from a fourth-quarter deficit and secure a win. That trait, not Westbrook's explosiveness or Kevin Durant's daggers or James Harden's surgeon-like precision in the pick-and-roll, has been the most impressive thing about the Thunder's playoff run thus far. Oklahoma City is now all grown up. The final five minutes of nearly every Thunder game this postseason has proved as much. Gone are the days when the Thunder would wind up on the wrong end of a blown lead. Now, it's the Thunder that is snatching victories from the jaws of defeat. Four of the Thunder's seven playoff wins have come by three points or less. Another victory was decided by just six points. Of those five wins, the Thunder trailed by 13 points in the fourth quarter of two games, by seven in the fourth period of two others and by one with a minute remaining in the other. The Thunder was the road team in both victories in which it trailed by 13 in the fourth quarter.

  • Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register: Pau Gasol believes he's hungry for more titles. If he really was, his baseline level of focus would be higher instead of only spiking high. At a time in his career when Bryant needs more help and not less, this mix of talent has gone sour. Not toxic, mind you, but sour. It's why the Lakers frittered away Games 2 and 4 to Oklahoma City. They don't quite have that old confidence that they deserve to win and will make the key plays that demonstrate to the world how they deserve to win. Consider the recent years besides 2009 and '10, when the Lakers won it all: In 2008, they blew a 24-point lead in the NBA Finals' worst meltdown ever in Game 4, giving the Celtics a sudden 3-1 advantage. In 2011, their Game 1 implosion at home against Dallas erased a 16-point third-quarter lead and a seven-point lead in the final minutes, with Gasol faltering badly down the stretch and the last chance being a missed Bryant 3-pointer bearing an uncanny resemblance to the one Bryant missed near the end Saturday night. Championship teams find a way to win because they aren't afraid to lose. And in that regard, the sweet-hearted, good-intending Gasol is unfortunately the Lakers' No. 1 problem.

  • Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Boston played a great first quarter and a good-enough second quarter to hold a 46-31 lead at halftime, and the Celtics must have thought their work for the evening was complete. That is not what teams do when they respect their opponent or anticipate that something other than ordinary effort will be necessary to finish the job. ... They were surprised, because they didn't think the Sixers had it in them to keep fighting on a night they had shot a ridiculous 23 percent from the field in the first half. That's terrible even by the Sixers' shooting standards, which are pretty low on a good day. And, of course, they were wrong to think it was over. But that is what happens to teams that have been champions before. They think the crown is still up there and lesser teams will bow to its glory, or they think there is some carryover effect to having survived these games before. The Sixers are not going to be champions this year and perhaps not any time soon, but they are a dangerous team to underestimate. Assuming they will quit on a game is usually a particular mistake. ... In the back of their minds, maybe even in the front, they figure that they'll still win the series, and that taking real control of it Friday night wasn't worth the effort the Sixers were requiring them to make. The Celts might be right. They probably will still win the series. What is less true than it was before Friday night, however, is that they still deserve to win it.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Doug Collins has put it delicately, at least compared to how he wants Kevin Garnett defended. The Philadelphia 76ers coach wants his big men to disrupt Garnett’s timing. Sometimes that has meant trapping the Celtics center, but more often that goal has been met by prodding Lavoy Allen and Spencer Hawes to push Garnett farther out, to make it uncomfortable when he gets the ball. Success has only been limited, but on Friday night in the Celtics’ Game 4 loss, when Garnett nearly had as many turnovers (seven) as points (nine) and only took 12 shots, the ploy paid a huge dividend. Asked yesterday about Allen, though, Garnett was typically unseeing. “It doesn’t matter. All of their big guys are playing physical and bumping,” Garnett said. “You go through side picks and it’s physical. I can’t tell one guy from the next. Spencer Hawes is being just as physical as the young kids. It’s all the same. They’re very aggressive.” But tonight in Game 5, the Celtics can’t afford to have the generous Garnett — the one spreading the wealth — passing nearly as often. The Celtics are 1-3 this postseason when Garnett takes 12 shots or fewer, and 5-1 when he takes 13 or more. Shots are just as important as touches, though according to coach Doc Rivers, an acceptable amount of offense is running through Garnett’s hands.