First Cup: Thursday

  • Barry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Down 2-0 in the series, down 18 points in the first quarter, down 15 points at halftime, the Thunder continued to write a remarkable story. The Thunder rallied to beat the San Antonio Spurs 107-99 Wednesday night to win the Western Conference Finals. A city that seven years ago didn't even have a pipedream of being an NBA port now is on the league's grandest stage. With streamers falling and the crowd still yelling, Thunder chairman Clay Bennett told the fans and a national television audience, “All I can think of is how this incredible group of young men has unified this city and this state.” And even the Spurs took notice. The Spurs' Gregg Popovich, with four championships one of the most successful coaches in NBA history, didn't lament missed opportunity. He lauded what the Thunder has done in four short seasons in OKC. “Great, great stuff,” Popovich said. “As sad and disappointed as we are, you really have to think about it's almost like a Hollywood script for OKC in a sense.”

  • Staff of The Oklahoman: With just more than eight minutes to go in the game and the Thunder up four points, Durant stepped in front of Ginobili in the lane, drawing a charge. “That’s his first charge of the year,” Westbrook chimed in before Durant could speak when Durant was asked about it afterward. “I was going to say that Russ,” Durant answered. “That was my first charge of the year. I just wanted to go out there and sacrifice my body for the team. I knew that would give us a little spark. Manu’s an unbelievable player at twisting his body and making crazy shots. I could tell they were excited when I got my first one when I got to the bench.”

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: The stench of cigar smoke didn’t fill the air inside the home locker room at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Not a single champagne bottle was in sight. The celebration — if you dare deem it such — that capped the biggest victory in Oklahoma City Thunder history was about as constrained as it could possibly be.Because the job is not done. The Thunder is advancing to the NBA Finals for the first time in the franchise’s Oklahoma City era after a 107-99 win over the San Antonio Spurs in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals on Wednesday night. Oklahoma City became just the 15th team in NBA history to come back to win a best-of seven series after trailing 2-0 and just the eighth team to come back and win the series after notching four straight victories. But every accomplishment thus far will remain lodged in the backseat. The goal from the start for this year’s squad was to win an NBA championship. “We didn’t want to just get to the Western Conference Finals, because no one remembers who was in the Finals in 2012,” said veteran center Nazr Mohammed. “Who’s going to care in a couple of years? You only remember who won. Guys really, really understand that. I think guys understand that it’s all about winning. It’s not about just making it and being happy.”

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: The Thunder played with confidence as if they knew it was their time. Until a week ago, the Spurs thought the same. Popovich denied that then, too. “I can tell you with any championship, we’ve never gone into a playoff thinking, ‘You know, this is our year. We’ve got the team. We can get it done.’?” Maybe not. But this wasn’t like losing to Memphis a year ago. This time, after years of being short on talent and luck, they were healthy, deep and on the cusp of their fifth Finals. Better yet, two flawed teams were waiting in the east. “I thought this was our time,” Tim Duncan said late Wednesday, “to get back to the Finals and push for another championship.” Instead, a team that had gone 50 days without a loss had four in a week’s time. Adding to the pain, they blew the largest halftime lead in Spurs playoff history in the finale. Wonderful season? Duncan, as well as his teammates, may never accept that.

  • Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News: The 36-year-old veteran of 15 seasons in silver and black faces a summer of big decisions. He will become an unrestricted free agent July 1, already having declared himself a Spur for life. With a left knee that requires wearing a brace even when he is not playing, he must decide if another summer or two of conditioning and healthy eating is something he wants to continue. Decision-making will wait until Duncan and his family have had a chance to exhale after the compressed post-lockout season concluded in such disappointment. The disappointment, he said, won’t factor into his decision. “Not really,” he said. “Bottom line is the summer is going to come. The summer is going to be here, and it is what it is. I’ll figure it out when I come to it. I haven’t even thought about it, and I really don’t care. I’ll figure it out when it happens, just like everything else.”

  • Tim Griffin of the San Antonio Express-News: Most observers consider LeBron James to be the best basketball player in the NBA — if not the planet. James’ unique combination of size, strength and skill give him the athletic ability of few players in NBA history. Even if he hasn’t won a title yet. But the effort by Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City’s 107-99 victory over the Spurs wrapping up the Western Conference Finals was a point where Durant made his case that he could be considered with James as the league’s best. Durant went for 34 points, 14 rebounds and five assists in a 48-minute effort to close out the Spurs’ season. The former Texas standout finished with 20 points in the second half as he helped his team earn its first berth in the NBA Finals since its days as the Seattle SuperSonics. Durant’s leadership of the Thunder is unquestioned. He’s seen the team emerge from a 23-win season in its first season in Oklahoma City to the cusp of the franchise’s first championship since arriving in Oklahoma.

  • Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald: Joel Anthony goes from starting Game 4 to not playing in Game 5. Chris Bosh plays 10 productive first-half minutes, then just four the rest of the night. James Jones, out of the rotation for much of the season, logs more than eight minutes in the Heat’s most important fourth quarter of the year. With some of his surprising lineup decisions, coach Erik Spoelstra has provided talking points for second-guessers. Start with Bosh, who had nine points and six rebounds in his first game back from an abdominal strain. Asked Wednesday why Bosh did not play in the fourth quarter, Spoelstra said, “I didn’t think it would necessarily be fair to him to throw him in with three minutes to go.” Pressed Thursday about why that was even an issue, Spoelstra said, “Those are decisions you have to make as a coach, and after the fact, those can always be second-guessed. But we’re treading in new waters, and he had been out quite a while.” Bosh said Thursday “I feel like I had more to give” but added, “We had the right guys in at the right time. I can’t win everything in my first game back. Hopefully, I’ll be able to contribute a little more.”

  • Dan Le Batard of The Miami Herald: The Heat crumbled the only other time it has been under this kind of weight — in Game 6 of The Finals last year. Totally crumbled. And that was in the friendlier confines of home, not in a rabid Boston. It would be the most human thing in the world for Miami to be super tight tonight. Only two times in two years has Miami played a win-or-your-season-is-over-and-America-will-laugh-at-you game. And the last one was crushing, which is why so much distrust surrounds this team now. The home arena was so quiet during the last loss late that you could feel the surrounding fear in your core. Miami tries to fend off the Celtics and a laughing America beginning at 8:30 tonight. That anchor in your stomach? That emotional drain? That fear that consumes you? If that’s what you feel here, all these miles away from the center of the hostility, just watching on television, imagine what it feels like to be LeBron James.

  • Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald: Here it comes again — another close-out opportunity tonight in Game 6 against Miami — and at least the Celtics are on the floor where they tend to seal these matters. They are 2-0 at home this postseason when presented with the chance to close out a series, as opposed to their 0-2 record on the road under those circumstances. Those diametrically opposed numbers cover the entire new Big Three era. Over the last five postseasons the C’s are 2-11 when given the chance to close out a series on the road. Over the same stretch they are 10-1 in home closeout opportunities. “Right now Game 7 is (tonight) for us,” guard Ray Allen said. “That’s how we have to look at it. We have to play all-out basketball. It only gets harder from here on. We look forward to it. We have some very strong personality guys who want to win, and our only fault at times is we all want to do it. But we’ve found a way to come together.” But the Game 7 mindset never changes.

  • Steve Buckley of the Boston Herald: Professional sports leagues are laced with onetime interns, errand boys and office assistants who never played the game but who combined intelligence, personality, and pure, raw ambition to make it to the top. Eric Mangini used to fetch pizza for the reporters who cover the Cleveland Browns. Theo Epstein’s first job with the San Diego Padres was to choose the music that gets played between innings. Heck, Bill Belichick was a junior assistant to the assistant to the assistant to coach Ted Marchibroda on the old Baltimore Colts. This is sort of the way Erik Spoelstra came up through the ranks, and there’s not a thing wrong with that. And the betting here is that he is going to have a long, successful run in the NBA. But it’s not unfair to wonder if he’s the right guy at the right time — on that team, with those players, and with that team president. Doc Rivers, meanwhile, glides along from season to season, knowing when to challenge and when to back off, and knowing, too, that nobody is going to shove him during a timeout.

  • Frank Dell’Apa of The Boston Globe: Paul Pierce believes Kevin Garnett’s resurgence this season is related to his recovery from 2009 knee surgery. “You’re finally seeing a healthy Kevin,’’ Pierce said after the Celtics’ 94-90 win over Miami in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals Tuesday night. “He hasn’t been healthy the last couple of years. “When you have a surgery of that magnitude, it’s tough on a big man. It looks like he has healthy legs. He’s playing long minutes and he’s giving everything he can.’’ Garnett underwent surgery for popliteus damage and bone spurs after being injured during the 2008-09 season. “He has to have the best plus/minus in the playoffs,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “He’s just amazing. He doesn’t have to score. Obviously, we need his scoring, that’s important. But he’s just, he’s our life. He really is. He just does so many things that don’t have numbers to it.