First Cup: Monday

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: The whole question of rest versus rust has dogged the Spurs throughout the playoffs. They’ve had long breaks between series after first-round sweeps in the first two rounds. But in Sunday’s 101-98 victory over Oklahoma City, the Spurs dodged a bullet after an extremely slow start from a rusty, lethargic beginning. For the first three quarters, the Spurs didn’t appear like the league’s hottest team. They had 14 turnovers in the first half and went to the line for only seven foul shots through three quarters. But an impassioned reminder from Gregg Popovich before the start of the fourth quarter got them playing with a nasty edge. That wake-up call helped them erupt for 39 points in the fourth quarter — most of any playoff quarter and most in any fourth quarter all season. Despite the rally, Spurs captain Tim Duncan said the team was fortunate to win when it played a game he readily admitted was far from its best. “We had a lot of guys not play up to par,” Duncan said. “We didn’t shoot the ball as well as we would have liked, but we stuck with it.”

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has spent most of the 11 years Tony Parker has been with the team beseeching him to leverage his speed and aggression. The key for Parker in the Spurs’ 101-98 victory in Game 1 of their Western Conference finals matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder was to slow down just a tad. Parker shouldered the blame for the Spurs’ 14 first-half turnovers — just four shy of their playoff high in the first eight postseason games — saying he tried to do too much too quickly. “It started with me,” he said. “I didn’t make good decisions; a little bit in a hurry. That comes with not playing for a week. I was a little bit going too fast, getting in trouble. I take responsibility for that.” Parker had four of the 14 first-half turnovers and only six points and three assists. He recovered nicely in the second half, scoring 12 points, finishing with 18 points to go along with eight rebounds and six assists. He outscored Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, his fellow-second team All-NBA guard, by a point.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The story of this game was the fourth quarter. The Thunder couldn’t get a stop and couldn’t make a shot. The Spurs, on the other hand, sizzled. San Antonio got just about whatever it wanted with relative ease to storm back to steal a victory from the jaws of defeat and salvage its home-court advantage. The Thunder entered thefourth quarter ahead by nine at 71-62. But the wheels fell off for OKC about as quick as they possibly could. You could sense it when Tiago Splitter got back-to-back layups in the first minute of the fourth. His scores came too easily, too quickly. With them, Splitter immediately swung the momentum to the Spurs’ side, and the game just snowballed for the Thunder from there. San Antonio scored an unbelievable 39 points in the fourth quarter. That’s insane for a playoff game. And it can’t be too far from whatever the record is for points scored in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. Thunder coach Scott Brooks: “We take a lot of pride in our defense in the fourth quarter and we gave up 39 points…Over 30 points in the fourth quarter is not good enough to win.” The Spurs were 12-of-16 in the fourth quarter. That kind of says it all.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Through three quarters, the Thunder looked all grown up. Looked capable of knocking off the Spurs, who hadn't lost in 46 days. Looked capable of making the NBA Finals. Then suddenly, the Thunder looked scared. Dazed. Confused. Young. Awfully young. Most playoff games are won or lost in the fourth quarter, and Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals most certainly was Sunday night. Won by the team that's been down this road in many a May. Lost by the team that's still a big-stage novice, despite its rapid ascension. San Antonio beat the Thunder 101-98 at the AT&T Center, going from a nine-point deficit early in the fourth quarter to a 10-point lead with 1:57 left. Only a 3-point barrage in the final seconds made it close for OKC. And now the Thunder has an off day to ponder its mission. Grow up, and grow up fast, if it wants to challenge the Spurs. The Thunder lost its way on offense and defense. Grew stagnant with the ball. Grew sloppy in defending the Spurs. The Thunder went seven straight possessions without scoring, and don't let anyone in blue tell you the Boomers were just missing shots. Wasn't so. James Harden, then Derek Fisher, and finally Kendrick Perkins all testified. The Thunder stopped moving the ball.

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: He has been criticized by fans, yelled at by Dwyane Wade and blasted by Charles Barkley for not giving the ball more to LeBron James late in games. But Erik Spoelstra has also begun to earn something else from his players and opponents: credit. There was James’ unprompted testimonial after Thursday’s win at Indiana: “He coached a spectacular series to put us in position to succeed. He made some unbelievable adjustments.” (James asserted earlier in the playoffs that because of Spoelstra, "We're never blind-sided by anything.") Then there was Bulls guard Richard Hamilton gushing on NBA TV: “Spoelstra doesn’t get enough credit for the job he has done with that team. Awesome job.” In private interviews, Heat players cite several reasons why Spoelstra is a better coach than a year ago: improved communication, more flexibility and a willingness to take their input. Not everything has worked, such as starting Dexter Pittman in Game 3 against Indiana. But many of his moves paid dividends recently: starting Shane Battier in Chris Bosh’s absence and having him defend David West; fronting Carmelo Anthony in Game 1 of the Knicks series (which flummoxed him) and often fronting the Pacers' big men (Roy Hibbert said the Heat kept them from getting the ball as much as they wanted); and moving Bosh to center late in the season. But Heat players said Spoelstra's best adjustment in the final three games of the Pacers series was putting West, instead of Hibbert, in pick-and-rolls "where LeBron and Dwyane can get past him and attack Hibbert," as Battier explained.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: In an Eastern Conference postseason shaped by injuries to star players, it will be an injury from last season’s playoffs — Rondo’s dislocated elbow — that will serve as the backdrop to the Eastern Conference finals between the Heat and Celtics. The best-of-7 series begins at 8:30 p.m. on Monday at AmericanAirlines Arena. For the Heat, which struggled against the Celtics this season, somehow finding a way to limit Rondo will be the No.1 objective. Much of that task will fall to Chalmers, who Wade called the Heat’s most important player in the series. Rondo, who averaged 18.7 points, 13.7 assists and 7.7 rebounds, has more postseason triple-doubles (nine) than the rest of the league combined (seven) in the same time span. “He’s one of the biggest keys to this series,” Wade said of Chalmers. “No way around it. He has to play well for us.” In the three games he played against the Heat this season, Rondo averaged 18.7 points, 13.6 assists and 7.7 rebounds per game. The Heat lost two of those games and finished the season 1-3 against Boston. “No one can figure out how to defend Rondo,” LeBron James said. “He’s a unique player, a guy that breaks the defense down and creates for himself and creates for his teammates every single night.

  • Frank Dell’Apa of The Boston Globe: There will be no respite for the weary Celtics when they meet the Miami Heat Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, less than 48 hours after an 85-75 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. At least the Celtics are used to abnormally quick turnarounds, after playing 66 regular-season games in 124 days and, since the postseason started April 29, another 13 playoff contests. The compacted schedule has helped form the team’s identity. The Celtics have proven to be a resourceful, spirited group. And, despite having three future Hall of Famers and an All-Star point guard, they have shaped themselves as overachievers. There is an underdog feeling about the Celtics, who had been written off long ago, the Big Three on their last legs and even the younger players cursed by medical problems. But the Celtics have carried on in the face of adversity and injuries, and are now plunging headlong into the inferno. And this will be another difficult turnaround, not allowing the Celtics to deal with the fatigue accumulated by two weeks of battling the Sixers.

  • Scott Souza of the MetroWest Daily News: The Celtics felt they had a winning hand last year too, before they were cut off at the elbow. This year, through Avery Bradley’s shoulder, Ray Allen’s ankle, Jermaine O’Neal’s wrist and the hearts of Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox, they’ve taken more than their share of hits again. But after beating Miami three times in the final month of the regular season – albeit once in the last week with the JV squads playing for each side – they believe they not only can stay with the Heat, but they can take them out and extend the new Big 3 era into one more NBA Finals. “We feel we can beat Miami,” Rondo said. “Obviously, we got to this point. There’s no doubt in my mind.”