First Cup: Wednesday

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: Tony Parker had a shooting game for the ages Tuesday night. It didn’t matter where he was aiming from. He hit 5 of 6 shots from inside 10 feet, misfiring only on a twisting first-quarter layup. He was 7 for 9 from 10 to 20 feet. And he hit 4 of 6 from 20 feet and beyond to finish off a 34-point effort that was the biggest playoff scoring binge by a Spurs player since his 43-point effort against Dallas in 2009. Parker’s 16-for-21 shooting effort Tuesday night ended up as the best shooting game by a true guard with at least 20 shots in the playoffs since Vinnie Johnson notched a similar 16-for-21 game against Boston in 1985. And it was the biggest reason why the Spurs cruised to a 120-111 victory over the Thunder, claiming a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Parker might have out Microwaved “the Microwave” with his clutch shooting down the stretch, hitting 7 of his 8 2-point attempts and one of his two 3-pointers in the second half. It finished off a memorable night that he was at a loss to explain afterwards. “I don’t know,” Parker said. “It was just one of those nights. I felt in a good rhythm early on. I was making my shots and just trying to be aggressive.” Sunday night in Game 1, it was Manu Ginobili with 26 points. Parker stepped up in Game 2. When the Spurs get that kind of scoring punch from the backcourt, they are going to be tough to beat by Oklahoma City or anybody else left in the playoffs.

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: Tim Duncan’s four blocked shots in the Spurs’ Game 2 victory over Oklahoma City boosted him into second place on the NBA career playoff list for rejections. Duncan eased past Hakeem Olajuwon with 473 career playoff blocked shots. Olajuwon has 472. The Spurs captain now is only three blocks behind NBA career leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who notched 476 blocked shots since the statistic first was recorded in the 1974 playoffs. Abdul-Jabbar’s record does not include his first four playoff seasons with the Milwaukee Bucks. He played 41 playoff games in those four seasons when he was at his statistical peak. Top players and intimidating defenders like Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain’s blocked shots were never recorded. But Duncan’s big night Tuesday — the 50th time in his career he has notched at least four blocked shots in a playoff game — showed his defense in a strong way.

  • Mike Sherman of The Oklahoman: Near the end of his news conference, Scott Brooks gave what for him amounts to a rally cry. Remember the Lakers series. Of course, he didn't exactly say that. But close. Remember it? Remember the Thunder's maiden postseason voyage to Los Angeles, when they came home down 0-2 to a championship-caliber team following one game they let get away from them in the end and another they played from behind all the way? Sounds familiar, doesn't it. The Thunder's coach thinks so. He even evoked memories of the 2010 Thunder-Lakers series here Tuesday night following Oklahoma City's 120-111 loss to the Spurs. “We've been in this situation before with this group once before,” Brooks said. “We've had some history with this.” ... If the Spurs win that one, and the series is all over but the shouting. (There's plenty of sentiment that it already is.) Oklahoma City will have to live with its fate of completing another postseason master's-level course taught by a champion. But win Game 3, and there's a series. And an answer to what passes for a Scott Brooks rallying cry.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: In the first round of the 2008 NBA playoffs, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich resorted to the “Hack-A-Shaq” approach of having his players intentionally foul Phoenix Suns center Shaquille O'Neal, who struggled throughout his career at the free-throw line. The move angered O'Neal so much he called it “cowardly.” Late in the third quarter of Game 2 against the Thunder on Tuesday night, OKC coach Scott Brooks instructed his team to deliberately foul Spurs reserve center Tiago Splitter, who was shooting 32.0 percent from the line this postseason. The tactic at least stopped the clock for the Thunder, which still wound up losing 120-111 at the AT&T Center. Asked if he thought the “Hack-A-Splitter” approach helped OKC get back into the game, Popovich said: “Maybe, maybe. It was a good move. I might have done it.” Playfully asked if he had ever tried such a tactic? “No, I've never done that before,” Popovich said. “I think it's a really lousy thing to do. It's unsportsmanlike. No, it's a good move. If there's a reason to do it, and they did it. So it's a good move.”

  • Frank Dell’Apa of The Boston Globe: Rajon Rondo defended his call for stronger physical play from the Celtics. “You go to the hole, you’re going to get fouled,’’ Rondo said Tuesday. “You’re going to hit the deck. I didn’t say flagrant these guys, I didn’t say undercut, take them out, play dirty. It’s just basketball, you know? “I don’t think nobody’s going to punk anybody. You can’t; you’ll get fined. There’s only so much you can do as far as acting like a tough guy. We’ve just got to play smart basketball and try to find a way to win a game.’’ Rondo played all but two minutes of the first three quarters, then stayed on the court until the final 1:41 of garbage time in the 93-79 loss to the Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Monday. Coach Doc Rivers is emphasizing the Celtics’ inside defense as a way to unleash Rondo. “Protecting the paint,’’ Rivers said of the team’s top priority. “If we do that, our offense will be much better because that means we’re getting stops, and multiple stops, and we’re running. “Part of the reason we didn’t run much is because they scored or they got offensive rebounds and layups. We have to get multiple stops so we can get Rondo in transition.’’

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Although it’s a thought that occurs regularly to Doc Rivers and his coaching staff, no one is ready to change Ray Allen’s role, regardless of the relationship between the bone spurs in his right ankle and his deteriorating shooting. “Not yet. We’re good,” Rivers said yesterday of a possible change. “Ray is Ray and we’re going to roll him out there and see what we can get. If we feel he can’t give it to us we’ll go with someone else, but I feel we have to give Ray a fighting chance every time.” Rivers said this the day after Allen shot 1-for-7 from the floor, and even more bizarrely, 3-for-7 from the line, during the Celtics’ loss to Miami Monday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. Allen, who had missed a total of 12 free throws (93-for-105) over the 2010 and 2011 playoffs combined, has already missed 12 (18-for-30) in this postseason. But he emerged from yesterday’s team meeting in a calm, composed state. "Anybody who I know is a shooter, they shoot in certain ways. I’m never going to stop what I’m doing, the way I prepare and how I shoot,” Allen said of his attempt to find a rhythm. “I’m just going to get to it. I try not to push myself in shooting and jumping higher, but I have to. Sometimes you just don’t make shots, too. I just don’t put too much pressure on it.” Rivers has a similar idea, though the time could still come when he applies the quick hook. “It’s a decision you make in a game,” Rivers said.

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: They are Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, and they have heard this before. "Yeah, that's what we have become accustomed to," Wade said after practice Tuesday. "One thing about us, is we feel we can play any way, any style." They have felt that way, well, forever. "It's been that way for a long time for me," James said. "Physical play has always been a part of an opponent's game towards me, and towards my teams I've been on. So it's not surprising when I hear it or see it throughout the course of the game." Nothing new? "No, it always kind of happens," James said. "Ever since we started. Ever since I was a freshman in high school, it goes all the way back then." So it is predictable that the series has gone this way already, especially after the Heat played below par offensively in Game 1 and still pulled away easily. It is predictable that the proud Celtics would pull out the bully card. It is predictable that teams - tired of chasing the Heat - talk about pushing Miami around. It is predictable yet pointless, perhaps even counterproductive. Hit the deck? That attitude is the fastest way for the Celtics to hit the road into the off-season.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: The way the Heat’s offense is humming along in these playoffs, perhaps Chris Bosh should take his time returning from injury. Since Miami’s initial two losses to Indiana without Bosh, the team’s offense has exploded thanks to a combined effort by Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to get close to the rim. In Monday’s Game‚ÄČ1 win over the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, the Heat shot 50 percent from the field despite going 5 of 25 from behind the three-point arc. Led by James and Wade, the Heat was 21 of 27 (77.8 percent) inside the paint. ... Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said less “hero ball” and not less Bosh has resulted in the offensive uptick. Whatever the reason, the Heat’s ball movement in its half-court offense has improved since Bosh was sidelined with an abdominal strain. “It’s not something that happens overnight,” Spoelstra said. “This is two years of habits and learning each other’s strengths and learning what’s effective for us. We’ve had to change a lot of habits that guys have had for years for the improvement of our team.”

  • Elliott Teaford of the Los Angeles Daily News: Choosing stability over uncertainty, the Clippers decided to stick with Vinny Del Negro as their coach Tuesday and picked up their option on his contract for 2012-13. Del Negro led the Clippers to a 40-26 record during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season. Their .606 winning percentage was the best in franchise history. "Vinny's job got easier and harder at the same time," general manager Neil Olshey said on a conference call. "At the end of the day, we think we had the best roster in the history of the franchise. Vinny turned it into the best record." ... Olshey said there was no hesitation in bringing Del Negro back. The only delay in the announcement was in finding time to talk to make sure they were on the same page after going through exit interviews with the players and assistant coaches. "There was no real urgency on anybody's part," Del Negro said.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy of ABC/ESPN believes the Charlotte Bobcats, as an organization, tanked this season. Speaking on a media conference call Tuesday, the former coach of the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets said he believes the organization assembled “a very poor roster by design.” Van Gundy also said he wouldn’t reward bad teams with extra chances in Wednesday night’s draft lottery. “I don’t think the players and the coaching staff (tanked). I think the organization did by not getting the best roster” available, Van Gundy said. “You could make the case at any position that they did not have a top-15 player” at that position in the league. He said the Bobcats’ “get bad to try to get good” strategy is common among NBA teams but that their 7-59 finish last season – worst by winning percentage in league history – wasn’t happenstance. “What they’re doing, most (front office) people would do. But it’s by design,” Van Gundy said, adding he would do away with the weighting system that gives the Bobcats the best chance (25 percent) at the top pick. “To consistently reward bad teams with extra (chances) is bad,” he said.