First Cup: Wednesday

  • Linda Robertson of The Miami Herald: The Heat blew its precious home-court advantage in a 94-90 Game 5 loss to fall behind 3-2 in the seven-game series. The questions about the lack of clutch plays and players will come thundering down on Heat heads, just as they did last season. Whether Miami can ignore the questions and withering criticism as it prepares for Game 6 will be key in determining whether they can win Game 6 on Thursday in Boston’s extremely inhospitable GAH-den. Miami squandered a comfortable lead inside AmericanAirlines Arena, which went from boisterous to stunned. Then, it allowed the score to ricochet back and forth in the fourth quarter. Big breakdowns followed big shots for both teams. Yet when push came to shove as it so often has in this “good ol’ bar fight” of a series, as Paul Pierce described it, the Celtics had the last punch. The Heat whiffed. It was another entertaining, excruciating game. Fans’ nerves are frayed. Players’ legs are heavy. Coaches’ brains are fried. But this rivalry between the aging Big 3 of Boston and the dynamic Big 3 of Miami keeps on delivering irresistible drama. It was closer than it should have been for the Heat, and then it was a loss it could not afford. Now the Heat faces “a test of character,” as Spoelstra put it. “That’s what the playoffs are all about.”

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: Here were the Celtics shooting blanks, with Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett a combined 4 for 21 at one point late in the first half, and being crushed on the boards, and yet still very much alive in this Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. Throughout the night, you had to be worried as a Heat fan, considering the moxie and defensive acumen and championship pedigree of this Celtics team, combined with the sterling track records of their stars. The Heat simply let the savvy Celtics hang around for too long in Game 5, and Boston defended with verve and made the key baskets at the end to take a 3-2 series lead. “We told our guys, ‘Just hang in there,’ ” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “The longer we’re in the game, the better we’ll play.”

  • Greg Stoda of the Palm Beach Post: They ooze confidence through every pore regardless of circumstance. And the circumstance now is that they hold a 3-2 edge in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference championship series against the Heat. Boston built that edge Tuesday night on the road in AmericanAirlines Arena with a stunning 94-90victory that pushed Miami to the brink of elimination. Another loss would erase the Heat, which has to go to TD Garden for Thursday night's Game 6. Anyone who wants to know everything important about the Celtics need only listen to Boston coach Doc Rivers talk about his team. "I think they kind of understand that Rondo's the leader everybody else plays with Rondo," Rivers said mid-series. "Kevin is still a great player, and Paul is still our best scorer. But they've gotten out of each other's way with roles. I think all the new guys have added a great competitive energy to our basketball team. So, early on when we were losing, I kept saying people were getting conditioning messed up with age. They kept looking at our team and saying, 'We're too old.' I kept saying, 'No, we're out of shape and let's find out how good we are later.' Sometimes, as a coach, you have a feel about a team. I don't know how good this team is. I've said that, but I know it's a team. We can play with anybody." He's absolutely right. And this series is proof.

  • Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald: So here were the Celtics and Heat last night, in another postseason, another series, another Game 5. And with less than a minute remaining, the Celtics up by one, Pierce leaned over, methodically dribbled the ball in his left hand, then moved it to his right, and saw a welcome mat laid out by LeBron James. Given some space, he threw a high shot over the outstretched left arm of LeBron that hit nothing but net. Now it will probably not surprise you that Pierce was unable, or unwilling, to compare this Game 5 with last year’s Game 5. “We’re not even thinking about last year, truthfully,” the Truth said. “Things that happened last year happened last year . . . this is a whole new ballclub, and we came in with the right focus.” Fair enough. But if you are a die-hard Celtics fan, and if LeBron’s heroics in last year’s series left a big welt on the side of your aching noggin, then last night’s outcome — and last night’s big trey from Pierce — had to help. Because Pierce’s shot not only changed the entire tone of the game during that last crazy minute, it painted LeBron James, fair or not, as The Guy Who Couldn’t Get the Job Done.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: While there can be no doubt the Celts wouldn’t have gotten out of here 94-90 winners without a big fourth quarter from Paul Pierce , Rajon Rondo's brilliant end to a generally awful night and some huge shots from Mickael Pietrus and others, this game had Kevin Garnett written all over it. When he returned in that final quarter, he added a key rebound, made a huge block on a LeBron James drive and hit an 18-footer from the right baseline (off a nice pass-out from Pierce). Then with 8.8 seconds left and the Celts clinging to a two-point lead, he was fouled on an inbounds pass and stepped up to the line. Two shots that caught purely net later, the Celtics were on their way to a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. Garnett finished with 26 points, 11 rebounds and two blocks, giving the Celts a chance to finish the Heat tomorrow night at the Garden. “He’s just amazing,” said Doc Rivers, fairly gushing afterward. “He doesn’t have to score. Obviously we need his scoring — that’s important — but he just . . . he’s our life. I mean, he really is. He just does so many things that don’t have numbers to it. A lot of it is with his voice. He’s, in a strange way, a calming effect on some of our guys. If you can ever call Kevin that, he is. He’s just been terrific for us.”

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: The Spurs are down 3-2 in the series heading into Game 6 tonight at Chesapeake Energy Arena, after opening with a 2-0 lead. During the past three games, the Thunder have spread the scoring wealth among role players such as Serge Ibaka, Kendrick Perkins, Thabo Sefolosha and Daequan Cook. The Spurs’ offense, meanwhile, has at times looked like more of a solo act. “When I look at the film now, you can see us try to do some things on our own,” Popovich said. “Too many people doing it on their own — out of good intent — but it leads to contested shots, leads to turnovers, that kind of thing, where you see Oklahoma City passing the ball and playing like we did in the first two games.” With the ball failing to move during much of their three losses, the Spurs have totaled 57 assists and 52 turnovers. They have committed 21 turnovers apiece three times, including a Game 1 in which they were victorious. Manu Ginobili has coughed up a team-high 15 turnovers in the past three games. Tony Parker has 11.

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: There’s one big difference between baseball and basketball, and it’s what turned Yogi Berra’s “It ain’t over until it’s over” from malaprop to logical genius: There’s no clock in baseball. That means a nine-inning game isn’t over until the 27th out is secured, however long that takes. It was the late Express-News columnist Dan Cook who first told us “It’s not over until the fat lady sings.” Bullets coach Dick Motta co-opted the folksy aphorism when the Spurs took a 3-1 lead in the 1979 Eastern Conference finals. His team won three in a row to crush hearts all over Bexar County. Popovich doesn’t do folksy, but if he wants to remind his players what is possible in the darkest situations, he might want to splice footage of Freese’s two-out double into the videotape the Spurs watch before Game 6.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Reactionary or revolutionary? Depends on the Western Conference Finals' Game 6 Wednesday night, when the Thunder can eliminate the Spurs and reach the NBA Finals. Beat the Spurs to win the West, and the Thunder will have short-circuited protocol. Paid its dues quickly, a homeowner paying extra principal on its mortgage. A team with stars aged 23 (Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook) and 22 (James Harden, Serge Ibaka) isn't supposed to reach the Finals, much less win it. A team this young is supposed to wait its turn. “Well, we never just thought that we were supposed to wait our turn,” Durant said. “We always wanted to go and take everything.” That's how the Thunder played in Game 5 Monday night. Despite a horrific start, despite the best shots from old pros Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan, despite a fourth-quarter cold spell that made the final minute hairy, the baby Boomers stood tall. “We've never looked at our age,” said Scotty Brooks. “I don't give them an excuse and say, ‘Oh, it's OK. You're only 20. It's OK, three years from now you'll only be 23.' We don't do that.”

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Oklahoma City has taken a 3-2 series lead over San Antonio in the Western Conference Finals largely because the Thunder's complementary players have been better. With the way this series has played out, the Western Conference crown figures to go to whichever team's role players perform best. More and more, it's become clear that the Thunder's are a cut above, and national analysts are jumping on the bandwagon. “I picked the Spurs to win the championship. (But) they can't beat Oklahoma City. You see that now.” said TNT analyst Charles Barkley following Game 5. “(The Thunder) just got better players. You can say what you want to. They got more guys who can have good games. The guys on the Spurs have not stepped up.” The stars in this series, for the most part, have done their parts. But a breakdown of the production of the role players shows exactly how this series has flipped, putting Oklahoma City on the brink of becoming just the 15th team to come back and win a best-of-seven series after trailing 2-0.