First Cup: Monday

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Is this where Heat fans were supposed to modestly feign concern because their team’s playoff run began Sunday night with a victory that was somewhat close for a little while? Do we now pretend this might be a competitive series, after all, because the Bucks’ opening loss was, for some of the night, relatively speaking, not entirely embarrassing? Nah. Sorry. This is the mismatch we expected. This is the mismatch that makes you wonder why Milwaukee doesn’t just concede now and save on lodging and travel costs. The Bucks are as hopeless against the Heat in this series as a cardboard house is in a Category 5 hurricane, and any doubts about that Sunday were short-lived. If anything, Game 1 of this first-round NBA playoff series verified why Miami, which won 110-87, has so little concern with Milwaukee. See, this was the Bucks’ best shot. Their adrenaline was palpable. They took 14 more shots than Miami. Their mouthy guard who promised a Bucks series win in six games, Brandon Jennings, scored 26 points. The sloppy Heat had 19 turnovers. And still Miami won big. Won so comfortably that the “White Hot” crowd that filled the downtown bayside arena like a mighty snowstorm had revved up into party mode (along with courtside spectator Rihanna) long before the final horn. Milwaukee has no shot in this series against the No. 1-seeded defending champions because the inspirational children’s book is called, The Little Engine That Could, but the Bucks are “The Little Engine That Couldn’t Quite.”

  • Charles F. Gardner of the Journal Sentinel: It was a frustrating playoff debut for Milwaukee Bucks centerLarry Sanders. The third-year pro was in foul trouble throughout the game and never found a rhythm in the Bucks' 110-87 loss to the Miami Heat on Sunday night in Game 1 of the teams' Eastern Conference playoff series. "I kept having to press the reset button to get myself loose," Sanders said of his foul woes. Sanders finished with six points, five rebounds and five fouls while being limited to 19 minutes. He drew his fourth foul with 9 minutes 31 seconds left in the third quarter and had to go to the bench. After returning to the court, he missed two short-range shots in the fourth quarter and picked up a fifth foul on a drive by Dwyane Wade. At that point Sanders exited and gave one thumb up to referee Sean Corbin. "Just tell him to stay confident," Bucks guard Brandon Jennings said of his advice for his teammate. "I mean, we've got one Tuesday (Game 2) and it's going to be another hostile environment.”

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: It was late in the third quarter of a tight game. A playoff game, Spurs and Lakers, just like old times. The Spurs were in control, but not firmly. The Lakers were behind, but not disastrously. For nearly three quarters, the Spurs’ lead stretched and contracted, stretched andcontracted, and at some point Manu Ginobili began to grow wistful. “It used to be my moment,” the Spurs’ guard said. Sunday at the AT&T Center, with Game 1 of the Spurs’ Western Conference playoff series against a familiar rival still in the balance, it was Ginobili’s moment again. With a flurry of eight points in 85 seconds to end the third quarter, Ginobili set the Spurs’ course toward 91-79 victory that served as the series’ opening salvo. By the time Ginobili’s three-shot flourish was complete — a layup and two 3-pointers — the Spurs had their largest lead (13 points) to take into the fourth. “You always want to create some separation,” Ginobili said. “Sometimes it doesn’t happen. I just took a couple risks. The ball went in, and it helped us.” Playing just his second game since straining his right hamstring March 29, the 35-year-old Ginobili led an energized and defensively refocused Spurs team with 18 points.

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: In an unprecedented move for a star of his stature, the injured Bryant tweeted his feelings about the game, during the game, for more than 2 million followers to digest. It was cool. It was insightful. It was a bold new testament to social media's ability to connect the commoner with royalty. If you believe Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni's rolled eyes afterward, it was also annoying. “It's great to have that commentary,” said D'Antoni bitingly. … Later, though, he began to have second thoughts about his involvement in the game, and his afternoon tweets ended with, “I see my tweeting during the game is being talked about as much as the game itself. Not my intention, just bored as I guess #notagain.” Does that mean Bryant will not tweet during the Lakers' second game here Wednesday? It would be unfortunate if he felt as if he couldn't stay connected to the team. It would be unfortunate if we couldn't read what he's thinking. Here's hoping he can figure out a way to make it work without making his coaches and teammates feel threatened during this most vulnerable of times. He surely understands. After all, can you imagine his reaction in a locker room after hearing that an injured player was tweeting about him? The only thing for certain is, on a day when the Lakers lost the ball and their focus, they missed their leader so badly, 140 characters can't begin to describe it.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: James Harden drove the lane which he has driven so many times before, the north end of Chesapeake Energy Arena's hardwood, and suddenly there was his old pal. Not trying to block the shot. Nope, Kevin Durant was so fired up about the start of this reunion tour, he was trying to take a charge. Which he attempts about once a season whether he needs to or not. “I was surprised,” Harden said. “I thought he was going to try to block my shot. He stood there and moved at the same time.” The whistle went Durant's way, but that had nothing to do with the Thunder's 120-91 rout of the Rockets on Sunday night. The mentality had everything to do with it. The high-flying Houstons were grounded. They missed 12 of their first 13 shots and eventually finished 33 of 91 from the field. … And Durant, the offensive phenom, was no small part of the effort. He dominated Parsons and even guarded Harden for a stretch. Not that any Thunder stayed on a Rocket long. The Thunder continually switched on Rocket screens, even when playing with surplus big men. Rocket coach Kevin McHale admitted that has bothered his team all season, and it bumfuzzled Houston on Sunday night. “It was all about giving it your all every possession,” Durant said. “Want to try to make them uncomfortable every time down.” Mission accomplished.

  • Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle: Only April fools thought the Rockets could slip into Oklahoma City on Sunday night and sneak away with a victory in Game one of their playoff series. A well-rested Thunder playing at home against a team that it is significantly better than, wasn’t about to be caught slipping to start what they hope is a run to the NBA championship. After losing in the Finals last year, OKC is a confident bunch. The only way they could lose to Houston is to have a bad night on the same evening the Rockets have a good one. For the Rockets, playing well won’t be enough. OKC is simply too good. For the Rockets to even have a chance at winning a game or two, they need to do almost everything better than they did tonight. Jeremy Lin needs to settle down. He looked shaky, made poor decisions and couldn’t make a shot. Lin can’t make just 1-of-7 shots (0-for-4 on 3s) in 33 minutes unless he is running the offense to perfection and setting others up, which he wasn’t. James Harden has to play like a superstar, especially when his teammates aren’t playing well. The Rockets look to him to deliver and his getting off to a slow start and not playing an efficient offensive game overall, is too much for this team to overcome. He has struggled of late, and his injured foot hasn’t helped.

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: The Pacers we saw Sunday in a 107-90 Game 1 victory over the Atlanta Hawks were the Pacers we saw the first 75 games of the regular season — tough-minded, aggressive, tied-together defensively — especially in the second half. … This is the template. This is how they’re going to beat the Hawks — live at the free-throw line, dominate the boards, play inside-out and force the transition-happy Hawks to play the Pacers’ mega-physical, halfcourt game. … These are the Indiana Pacers we’ve come to know and appreciate. They went away for a while there, but if Game 1 is any indication, they appear to be back. Yes, it sounds crazy to call any Game 1 must-win, but this was a must-win game for the Pacers’ suddenly fragile psyche. This isn’t like last year, when they could blow Game 1 at home to Orlando and know they had plenty of time to win a series against a Dwight Howard-less Magic team. If they had lost Sunday, it would have piled doubt upon the existing doubt, and it wouldn’t have been pretty. Order has been restored. For now.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: A quick perusal of the stat sheet held the glaring evidence of the Pacers domination of the Hawks. Free-throws: Pacers 30 of 34; Hawks 7 of 14. Rebounds: Pacers 48, (15 offensive); Hawks 32 (six offensive). The Pacers exploited those numbers for a 107-90 victory over the Hawks Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series. Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Wednesday. Hawks coach Larry Drew said he would not allow his team to use the free-throw discrepancy as a crutch – even though the Pacers made more than double of the freebies the Hawks attempted. “You can look at the stat sheet and you can draw your own conclusion on that,” Drew said. “I don’t think that was the deciding difference. I think we were still in position, in striking distance (in the fourth quarter). … We got beat because they outworked us.” … The Hawks were to return to Atlanta following the afternoon game for home practices Monday and Tuesday before returning for Game 2.

  • Jill Painter of the Los Angeles Daily News: Eric Bledsoe put on a show Saturday night as the Clippers beat Memphis 112-91, in the first game of their Western Conference first-round playoff series. He made all seven of his shot attempts in scoring 15 points and added six rebounds and four assists. The way the Clippers guard has blossomed isn't new to his teammates, but he might be considered a surprise to national NBA fans. "Unbelievable growth," Chris Paul said of Bledsoe. "Bled is one of the best guards in the league. I've said it all season long, I'm enjoying playing with him right now because there's no way he can be here next year because we probably won't have enough money to pay him. "He should be a starting point guard in this league next year. For him, I'm just enjoying it. I love to sit back and watch him because he's a game-changer. He's the key to our run." During a game in which DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin weren't a factor offensively, save for rebounds, Bledsoe helped deliver. At one point, he flexed both arm muscles, and with good reason.

  • Chris Herrington of the Memphis Flyer: As I mentioned at the outset, the Clippers have now won five of the past six meetings between these teams. Another decisive win in Los Angeles on Monday night and “Clips in 5” will become the most likely scenario here. After the last regular season loss to the Clippers, I suggested — contrary to conventional wisdom — that the Nuggets might be the more preferable Grizzlies opponent. Part of that reasoning was match-ups and the relative health of those teams entering the playoffs. Part of it was analysis fatigue — a personal desire to dive into a different opponent. But a big part of that assertion was psychological: I worried — and worry more now — about coming back to FedExForum down 0-2 to this particular team with this particular recent history. Not just the mood in the locker room and on the floor in the event of such an occurrence, but in the stands as well. For that reason, as much as for the raw competitive calculus, Monday night's Game 2 will be enormous for the Grizzlies.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: Tom Thibodeau likes to reveal rotational details about as much as Nate Robinson likes to pass up open shots. Nevertheless, in translating Thibs-speak, Richard Hamilton or Marco Belinelli may want to prepare for a lesser role. "We could, yeah," Thibodeau said, when asked if he might pick either Hamilton or Belinelli for the rotation. Jimmy Butler's elevation to starter and Thibodeau's preference to play Robinson alongside Kirk Hinrich for Robinson's scoring binges has crowded the shooting guard rotation. "We've had a lot of guys in and out of the lineup," Thibodeau said. "You're also looking at guys who are trying to come back from injury so you don't know where they are. The only way to find out was to play them. And so we have a little more clarity. And we'll see where we are (Monday)." Hamilton played just 7 minutes, 14 seconds to Belinelli's 19:54 and Robinson's 20:11 in Game 1, so the veteran could be the odd man out. He came off the bench for the first time in 127 career playoff games Saturday.

  • Filip Bondy of the New York Daily News: The Nets are very tough matchups for the Bulls when the visitors are ailing like this. Carlos Boozer may present a problem for Brooklyn, but Brook Lopez owned the paint on offense in Game 1 without Noah at his best. Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans controlled the defensive boards. Without Rose around, Williams didn’t need to work as hard on defense. On offense, he was able to penetrate and distribute the ball with limited resistance. The Nets owned many of these same advantages, however, when Chicago came into Barclays earlier this month and stormed back in the second half for an unsettling victory. They need to come out with the same energy and precision as they did on Saturday, no simple task. … History says that when the home team wins the first game in the NBA playoffs, it wins Game 2 nearly 74% of the time. Victory doesn’t always need to be so decisive. It just needs to be a victory, followed by another, followed by another, followed by another.