First Cup: Tuesday

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: It was a new school version of the old show-and-go, one of the Globetrotter gimmicks in Rajon Rondo's expansive and elastic repertoire. The Celtics point guard cupped the ball in one unusually large hand, then whirled in the other direction with his back to the basket, the deception attempting to separate the defender's eyes from the ball. But in this case the defender was LeBron James. Thus, the illusion was insufficient. "Cat quick," is how Celtics coach Doc Rivers described James. His swat of Rondo's shot, during a stage of the third quarter in which the Heat created the necessary space, was hardly vital, since it came as the 24-second shot clock expired. Still, it was among the signature moments of Monday's 93-79 victory, a victory that occurred in part because the Heat kept Rondo from authoring a signature performance. "He's probably the No. 1 unpredictable guy in our league," James said. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra understands. "It's extremely tough to scheme against Rondo, he's that unique," Spoelstra said. "The only thing you can emphasize is you have to make unpredictable possession-saving plays as well." ... His guys were able to open the Eastern Conference finals with a win, largely because the opposing point guard was good but not great, solid but not spectacular, at times dynamic but never dominant.

  • Linda Robertson of The Miami Herald: No one minced words when predicting the most telling matchup of the Heat’s playoff series against the Boston Celtics. It would be the wildly inconsistent Mario Chalmers vs. the wildly creative Rajon Rondo. Game 1, Round 1 goes to Chalmers. Rondo outscored Chalmers 16-9, handed out more assists, 7-4, and grabbed more rebounds, 9-5, yet it was Chalmers who elevated his performance in the duel of the point guards. It was Chalmers who collaborated with Shane Battier, Mike Miller and Joel Anthony to lighten the load for LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The Heat’s 93-79 victory in the opener of the Eastern Conference finals was the most balanced game the Heat has logged in the postseason so far. Chalmers made Rondo work hard. James and Wade dug in to defend him, too. As a result, Rondo never really broke free for his improvisational forays. He often bent over, hands on knees, puzzling over how to generate more opportunities for his teammates and himself.

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: You wouldn’t know it if you were watching these recent Heat playoff games on TV. TV doesn’t bother much with pregame warmups. You might not even have noticed if you were in the arena. Who pays attention to what goes on before a game? LeBron James is in seclusion. Maybe the most famous, talked-about,

    spot-lit athlete in America will take his me-time whenever he can get it. James doesn’t come out lately as the arena and the noise are ramping up. He isn’t on the court taking practice shots. Is nowhere to be seen as the national anthem plays. Isn’t even present for pregame introductions. He is alone in his zone, quietly slipping out just before the opening tipoff. To a lesser extent, fellow superstar Dwyane Wade has been doing the same thing, eschewing his regular pregame warmup routine (though not the anthem or introductions). Hey, whatever works, guys. Based on their performance lately, the new method of operation is working. Miami’s two superstars appear to be saving their best shots for the games rather than wasting them in warmups. Keep it up, please, a Heat fan might suggest.

  • Frank Dell’Apa of The Boston Globe: Ray Allen has been struggling with lateral movement because of bone chips in his right ankle. But Allen had difficulty standing still in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, going 3 for 7 at the foul line in the Celtics’ 93-79 loss to the Heat Monday night. “I’m just trying to find my balance,’’ said Allen, who shot 1 of 7 from the floor and had 6 points. “I feel good over it, I’m just not in a great rhythm right now. I just know I don’t have good timing right now. “The shot feels fine. If it’s short, I know that I do have less lift on it. I just take it day by day, trying to figure out what I’m dealing with. I do have restrictions. That’s why we have a great team here, why we have each other. “I believe you guys know what I’m dealing with. It’s nothing really to talk about. It’s like a battle within myself, I have to try to win. It’s a daily situation I have to deal with. This is the time I need to be out here to help the team win. When the season’s over with, I’ll have to deal with what I have to deal with myself personally. Right now, it’s the playoffs and you play.’’ On what loss means: “Nothing. It doesn’t mean anything. They just beat us one game.’’

  • Gary Dzen of The Boston Globe: Celtics coach Doc Rivers was hit with a technical foul with 3:13 remaining in the second quarter of Game 1 vs. the Heat. His team was called for five technicals. Rivers took issue with the call on him in particular after the game. "I know mine wasn't [a technical]," said Rivers. "I can tell you that much. I don't know how long I've been in the league, but that has to rank as the worst I've ever had. I would have loved to have earned it." On his team's technicals, Rivers said," We should never get them, anyway. I told our guys that. But everybody has to keep their composure."

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: "By Monday afternoon, video of Gregg Popovich’s newly famous timeout speech already had attracted more than 100,000 views on YouTube. TNT had replayed it about as many times. The national highlight shows had given the 20-second soundbite more airtime than Marv Albert. If there are NBA fans on Mars, presumably even they have downloaded the clip of a red-faced Popovich, early in the fourth quarter of the Spurs’ Game 1 victory over Oklahoma City, beseeching his players to play tougher and unleashing a quote screaming for T-shirt treatment. For many fans, Sunday became the day “I want some nasty” replaced “pounding the rock” as the Spurs’ inspirational axiom. For the Spurs themselves, it was just another day in Popovich’s timeout huddle. “We’ve heard that a lot,” guard Manu Ginobili said. “Sometimes in the locker room, when nobody else hears it. And with different words, too.” As the Spurs return to the AT&T Center for Game 2 of the Western Conference finals tonight, they hope not to require any such exhortation at all. If there’s one thing the Spurs took from Monday’s film review of their 101-98 win, it is this: Passive won’t get it done against the young and hungry Thunder. Nasty is the way to the NBA Finals. “Being nasty, I think a lot of people took it a lot of different ways,” said forward Stephen Jackson, the Spurs’ Mayor of Nastiness. “We knew exactly what he meant: We have to play hard and be more confident in ourselves.”

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: You can count on one finger the occasions when Gregg Popovich has responded sheepishly in a postgame news conference in the playoffs. When ESPN’s Shelley Smith opened Popovich’s press session after his team’s Game 1 Western Conference finals win over the Thunder by requesting he elaborate on “I want some nasty,” the Spurs coach was taken aback. “Why would you say something like that?” he said. Reminded that his exhortation between the third and fourth quarters had been caught on tape, Popovich was nonplussed. “I said that?” he inquired, breaking into a rare postgame grin. “In the heat of the game, stuff comes out of my mouth, and sometimes it’s embarrassing.” I think his face flushed, just a tad. But there is no reason for embarrassment. Popovich made his point with appropriate emphasis without cursing, and it was clear his squad got the message. Should the Spurs advance to a fifth NBA Finals, “I want some nasty” is going to be the catchphrase Spurs fans take there.

  • Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs’ reaction to the news they can make NBA history tonight with a win in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals can best be summed up in one word: Whatever. With their 101-98 victory over the Thunder on Sunday, the Spurs claimed their 19th straight win, matching the 2001 Lakers for the longest winning streak in NBA history that includes regular season and playoff triumphs. That Lakers team went on to capture a title, which is all the Spurs care about. “If it doesn’t turn out the way we want it to turn out, with us winning the championship, nobody is going to talk about the streak or even care about the streak,” guard Gary Neal said Monday. “Maybe after we complete our goals people will talk about the streak.” Said forward Stephen Jackson: “If we lose tomorrow, then all that goes down the drain. … What we’ve done up to this point doesn’t matter. We have to be ready to win Game 2.” The Spurs’ streak includes 10 games to cap the regular season. It’s also the longest in team history and is tied with the 1999-2000 Lakers for the fourth-longest in NBA history. With a win tonight, the Spurs will become just the fourth team to win 20 or more in a row. But winning the franchise’s fifth title, not etching their names in the record book, is what matters most to the Spurs. “None,” guard Manu Ginobili said when asked if he and his teammates had any awareness of the historical aspects of their scintillating run.

  • Michael Sherman of The Oklahoman: If you're Oklahoma City, you build on those 36 minutes, if only for this reason: Playing that way might be the Thunder's only viable option. This team is not built to consistently walk the ball up court in the Western Conference Finals and run a half-court play that produces an open shot against the smartest, most cohesive team in basketball. And if anyone needed a reminder of that, the Thunder's International Distress Signal was on display again in Game 1. You've seen the signal. It's Kevin Durant drifting, drifting, drifting toward half-court, desperately holding out one hand and begging for the ball as the shot clock ticks inside 12 seconds. It's not the sign of an unimaginative offense. It's a sign the Thunder is taking the ball out of the net too often — which is about all OKC did in the fourth quarter when San Antonio hit 12 of 16 shots. We might grow weary from listening to Durant, Scott Brooks, Brian Davis and everyone else cashing a Thunder paycheck say this. But “defense leading to offense” is the only Thunder Way that works this deep in the playoffs.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Serge Ibaka, the NBA's leading shot-blocker and an All-Defensive first-team selection last week, never left the bench in the final period and sat for the final 16:01 of the contest. For those questioning why this happened, the man responsible has also questioned why himself. “I think every decision you make, if it doesn't work out, you say, ‘Why'd you do that?' and I'm right (there) with you on that,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said the morning after. “I wish I would have played Serge last night.” A primary reason why the Thunder advanced to the Western Conference Finals with an 8-1 record was because Brooks had frequently pushed all the right buttons. He knew when to “go small” in the opening round against the Dallas Mavericks and again in the second round against the Los Angeles Lakers. Brooks does this by moving Kevin Durant from the shooting forward 3 position to the “stretch 4” forward spot. This forces opponents to go with a smaller 4 themselves to better defend Durant, arguably the toughest one-on-one matchup in the league. “We've done it in the past and have had a lot of success, so you can't really look back and beat yourself up too much … but I will,” Brooks said. “It was nothing against what Serge did.” The Thunder paid the price for going small, getting outscored 16-2 in the paint in the fourth period. In retrospect, Brooks wishes he would have stuck with his normal substitution rotation and re-inserted Ibaka with eight minutes left and the scored tied at 73 after a 9-0 San Antonio run.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The demise of the Thunder on Sunday night started the moment it stopped going to its bread and butter, better known by many as the bearded one. When the Thunder's offense got stagnant and the ball stopped moving in the fourth quarter, it was largely a byproduct of James Harden, the team's best playmaker, not having the ball in his hands. The end result was a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead evaporating against San Antonio before the Thunder walked out of the AT&T Center with a 101-98 loss in Game 1. “Tomorrow night,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said Monday, “we'll do a better job.” It'd be hard for the Thunder not to. In the final 12 minutes, Harden initiated and orchestrated just three plays in the halfcourt. The first two came in the first 1 minute, 14 seconds of the fourth quarter. The last one was drawn up for Harden with 1:11 remaining. During that 9 minute, 35 second gap, the Thunder went from being up seven points to down seven points. “I think this entire postseason, even in the regular season, the fourth quarter, the majority of the time, I have the ball in my hands and making plays,” Harden said. “Hopefully, we'll get back to that.”