First Cup: Monday

  • Frank Dell’Apa of The Boston Globe: The Celtics are alternatively flawless and floundering during the Eastern Conference finals. But they were resourceful enough to even the series with the Miami Heat with a 93-91 overtime victory Sunday night at TD Garden. After producing 61 points in the opening half, the Celtics totaled only 32 points in 29 minutes after halftime in Game 4. It was enough, though, for the Celtics to hold the home court going into Tuesday night’s Game 5 in Miami. ... This has been a series of adjustments and counter-adjustments. The Celtics seemed to be a move ahead of the Heat in nearly pulling off a Game 2 upset in Miami, then were in control for the first six quarters after coming home. But after a 101-91 Game 3 victory and 61-47 halftime advantage Sunday, the Celtics struggled offensively. But the Celtics’ defense kicked in during overtime, as both Miami’s LeBron James and Boston captain Paul Pierce were disqualified. Rajon Rondo (15 points, 15 assists) produced their only field goal in overtime and that, plus free throws by Marquis Daniels and Rondo and key plays by Kevin Garnett and Mickael Pietrus, were enough to make the difference. Yet the Heat were shooting for the victory on the final possession.

  • Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe: Celtic reserves Marquis Daniels, Keyon Dooling, and Mickael Pietrus have played key roles in the Celtics’ two victories this series. Daniels produced 9 points and five rebounds in 17 minutes of a 101-91 win over the Heat in Game 3 Friday, and gave a clutch defensive performance in overtime in Game 4. Daniels played 17 minutes in Game 3 and 15 minutes in Game 4 after playing sparingly this postseason. Dooling had 10 points in 16 minutes and Pietrus drew LeBronJames’s sixth foul and grabbed two offensive rebounds in overtime in Game 4.

  • Dan Duggan of the Boston Herald: Every time it seems Rajon Rondo has reached his peak, he manages to climb to a new summit. Celtics coach Doc Rivers believes Rondo has finally reached the rarefied air of great players because the 26-year-old point guard is finally delivering consistently. Rondo alwayshas been capable of posting a historic stat line, but he was just as likely to follow it with a lackluster effort that left everyone, including Rivers, scratching their heads. But not in this postseason, and certainly not in the Eastern Conference finals. Rondo had 15 points, 15 assists and five rebounds while playing 47:05 in the Celtics’ 93-91 overtime win over the Miami Heat in Game 4 last night at the Garden. That such a line has become routine is the true mark of Rondo’s progress. “He’s good. That’s what he is now when you think about it,” Rivers said. “He’s just a good basketball player — great basketball player. And now he’s consistent. That’s when you cross the line, when you’re no longer inconsistent.” The series is tied at 2 heading back to Miami for Game 5 tomorrow night. The last time Rondo was at American Airlines [AMR] Arena he dropped 44 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds on the Heat in a losing effort. He’s averaging 24 points, 10.5 assists and seven rebounds per game in the series.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Paul Pierce fouled out last night for the third time since Game 7 against Philadelphia. It’s about time he had some company, though LeBron James insisted that his aggressive post-up on Mickael Pietrus in overtime didn’t deserve a whistle. No matter. The Celtics captain liked the call. “It was very frustrating. But it’s very gratifying when you see the other star player foul out also,” Pierce said after last night’s 93-91 overtime win over Miami at the Garden, which tied the Eastern Conference finals at 2. “It evened up the playing field. “He never has a lot of fouls, but we were aggressive against him tonight. We stepped up twice to take charges, and drove. That’s what you have to do. Not a lot of players try to attack him. It’s not often that he plays against top small forwards in the league also. He gets a lot of nights off.”

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: For those who missed ESPN’s postgame show, Magic Johnson and Jon Barry blamed Erik Spoelstra in part on the failed final play of regulation. “I don’t know what that was,” Johnson said. “Bad offense. Spoelstra should have had both Mike Miller and James Jones in to have shooters... so a shooter would have gotten it instead of Haslem." Jones was in the game, but Miller was not. Said Jon Barry: “This is [on] Spoelstra – the inability of this team to get quality shots late in games. It's ridiculous. I don’t understand what they ran. It’s mind-boggling to me this long to have two of the best players in the game and not get quality shots.” And then there was this from Magic: "The Miami Heat is in trouble in Game 5." NBA TV’s Brent Barry said one difference is the Heat has uncertainty about what to run late in games and the Celtics “know exactly what they can run, who they can run plays to. And if those options close down, they know where they can go to?” The Heat is now 0-for-7 this postseason on shots to try to tie the game or take the lead in the final 24 seconds of regulation or overtime. Wade is 0 for 3, James 0 for 2, Udonis Haslem 0 for 1 and Mario Chalmers 0 for 1. According to ESPN, the other 15 playoff teams have shot 4 for 26 on shots in those scenario.

  • Ethan J. Skolnick of the Palm Beach Post: And while there would be chances thereafter for the Heat - chances granted by three Celtics misses from the field and one from Rajon Rondo at the line, chances in the form of a Shane Battier three-point attempt from the corner and a buzzer-beating Dwyane Wade three-point attempt from the top - there would be no more points. Instead, there would be a 93-91 loss. And a 2-2 series, heading back to Miami. Instead, suddenly, the Heat is no longer in prime position. It fell flat on its back, just like its star. It fell flat on his back in part because it didn't get back on defense early, so much so that Rondo - taking a page from former Mavericks guard DeShawn Stevenson's NBA Finals playbook - used a halftime ESPN interview to note that the Heat was "complaining and crying to referees in transition." And even when the Heat wasn't jabbering, it was jogging; that was evident on the play that gave Boston a 65-49 lead, when James and Wade took so long to get back that Rondo had enough time to redirect Pierce before feeding the forward for a score and foul. The Heat fell flat on its back in spite of Erik Spoelstra's continued tinkering, using Joel Anthony as the first-half starter at center, and then Udonis Haslem to start the second, then deploying Norris Cole - in one of his better stints since a breakout against Boston back in December - to slow Rondo some. If fell flat on its back even with Haslem grabbing 17 rebounds, and Wade - after another snail-paced start - erupting in the third quarter, and James providing 29 points. It fell flat on its back because, as has been the case so often the past couple of seasons, it couldn't quite finish down the stretch.

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: Just as LeBron James nixed his pregame powder toss for the playoffs, so too did he remove himself from social media. James hasn’t posted on his Twitter account since April 27. In his final tweet before the playoffs, he thanked his fans, did a little self-promotion and then stepped away from the 140-character media circus. “It’s not playoff silence,” James said. “My fans, I’m still with them. But I haven’t been on.” It’s just another way James has limited the noise around him during the most important postseason of his career. James has about 4.5 million followers on Twitter and, needless to say, they’re not all well-wishers. James’ self-imposed social media blackout is one of several changes he has made during the playoffs. In addition to cutting out his popular pregame chalk toss, James has also removed himself from pregame introductions altogether. During the Eastern Conference finals, James has remained in the locker room during player introductions and then joined the team on the court just before tipoff. Instead of warming up on the court, James usually rides a stationary bike behind the scenes to prepare for games. Then there is James’ reading kick. For the first time since he was in high school, James began reading books during the playoffs. He’s on his sixth book in five weeks.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: With his 18-point, fourth-quarter scoring barrage -- which included 16 straight for his team during a five-minute stretch -- Kevin Durant on Saturday enhanced his status as one of the league's best closers. But what he did through three quarters, dishing out six of his game-high eight assists, is what represented the next step in his evolution as a clutch performer. ... There was a time when Durant's clutch gene was in question. Nobody seems to remember those days now that Durant has a growing number of game-winners under his belt. A seemingly equal amount of sensational fourth quarters like Saturday's perhaps has pushed Durant over the top as the game's greatest closer. But remember the first three quarters of Game 4. Those 36 minutes were a reflection of how Durant has learned to let the game come to him. At no point did Durant play recklessly while forcing the issue. Instead, he trusted his teammates throughout, playing unselfishly and turning the Thunder into a more frightening nightmare through precise passes that made everyone else a threat.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Funny how a series goes. Serge and Perk looked overmatched and incompetent in missing seven Game 2 tap-ins. In the two losses in San Antonio, the two Thunder big men combined to make just six of 23 shots. Then you saw them in Oklahoma City. In two games, Ibaka made 16 of 20 shots; Perk 9-for-13. That's 25 of 33. And not just those two. Thabo Sefolosha played OK in San Antonio. He played spectacular back home. Nick Collison was a virtual no-show in Game 2. He was a force in both OKC games. It reminds of Willis Reed's old adage imparted during the year he spent in Oklahoma City with the Hornets in 2005-06. Role players don't travel. Role players tend to disappear on the road. The Thunder must counter that belief to win this series, preferably Monday night in Game 5, since Game 7 is nigh near impossible to win on the road.

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: This should be a lesson to both those who give and hear the criticism today. Even soft, unassertive disappearing acts can, in the span of one game, reverse everything and become the MVP of the Finals. Again, this isn’t 2005. The Spurs had to reverse the momentum of the Finals on the road in Detroit. What they face now should be emotionally easier. But playing at home guarantees nothing but concessions sales, and Ginobili’s phrasing Saturday night tells of that. “We earned ourselves the possibility of having home-court advantage,” he said, “and hopefully we’ll use it.” Before the Spurs went to Oklahoma City last week, they weren’t using the word “hopefully.” But there were times in 2005 when the Spurs leaned on hope, too. And after they won Game 7, Popovich said, “I don’t know how we did it.” This gets back to the belief that the better team always wins. Sometimes it doesn’t.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Oklahoma City forward Serge Ibaka came within one basket of matching an NBA playoff record when he went 11 for 11 from the field in Game 4. The message Ibaka and fellow big man Kendrick Perkins will get from the Spurs in Game 5 tonight: Good luck replicating it. Ibaka, Perkins and Nick Collison combined to hit 22 of 25 shots as the Thunder evened the series with a 109-103 victory. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says the Spurs have no plans to adjust their defense to account for the Thunder’s newly dead-eyed big men. A 53.5 percent shooter during the regular season, Ibaka scorched the Spurs for a career-high 26 points Saturday. Perkins added 15 points for his second double-digit scoring night of the playoffs. Collison added eight, his postseason high. The Spurs’ game plan conceded OKC’s big men any mid-range jumper they wanted. The seven dunks the Spurs allowed, however, were off script. “That’s what we’re giving up,” Spurs forward Stephen Jackson said, referring to the jumpers. “That’s in our game plan. Some of those jump hooks Perk hit, we’ll live with. Some of those wide-open jumpers, (Ibaka) should hit those. We’re giving them to him.”