First Cup: Tuesday

  • David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune: Fans flocked to the Barclays Center for Game 2 on Monday night between the Bulls and Nets fully expecting to see a key trio take control of this series. Indeed, a Big Three did. Except the players weren't Nets stars Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson. To the surprise of everybody not wearing red, the game-changers were Bulls role players Kirk Hinrich, Nazr Mohammed and Marco Belinelli. If any visitors from Chicago had believed that was possible before the Bulls' 90-82 victory, somebody around Brooklyn might have offered to sell you a nearby bridge. Yet Hinrich did more for the Bulls than Williams did for the Nets. Mohammed provided a needed spark in the third quarter after a hobbling Joakim Noah went to the bench with foul trouble. Belinelli, getting Tom Thibodeau's nod in the rotation over Rip Hamilton, supplied eight key points in 11 minutes off the bench when the four other players on the court and a national TV audience wondered who was going to score. This team win was so very Bulls, using reserves and resolve to piece together a big enough cushion to absorb a last-ditch Nets rally. The basketball was so ugly at times, it was beautiful. Control of the series now sits in the meaty hands of Thibodeau and his resilient team. Thibodeau coaxed the Bulls to take greater care of the ball and protect the paint better than a second coat. He got the Bulls to outplay and outhustle a Nets team that confirmed itself as one of the NBA's great underachievers. The Nets got Thibbed.

  • George Willis of the New York Post: It would be easy to point the finger at Deron Williams for this one. The stat sheet makes him a logical target. This is the playoffs, the time of year when your superstar has to play like a superstar. Williams did in Game 1. He didn’t last night in Game 2. After scoring 22 points on Saturday, Williams had just eight points, shooting just 1-of-9 from the field. “I didn’t play good,” Williams said, stating the obvious. “I’m not going to play like this again.” Truth is, the Nets’ 90-82 loss to the Bulls can’t be blamed on one guy. Blame it on the mind game. Leading up to Game 2, Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo preached about what he called “the mind game.” It’s part of handling the highs and lows of a best-of-seven series, something the Nets will have to figure out if they are going to beat the Bulls and advance to the second round of the playoffs. … They won’t win this series with Williams being passive or the Nets not bringing enough energy to match the Bulls. The old saying is a series doesn’t really get started until a visiting team wins. Now it’s up to the Nets to be the more desperate team going to Chicago.

  • Jill Painter of the Los Angeles Daily News: The first thing Blake Griffin did Monday was dunk. That was the best game plan the Clippers could've had for Game 2 of their first-round Western Conference playoff series against Memphis. Sounds simple? Yes, and that's the beauty of it. All it took was adunk for Griffin to find his groove. And the Clippers needed their leading scorer and dunk machine to find his rhythm early. Griffin scored 21 points, and added eight rebounds, four assists and one block as the Clippers edged Memphis 93-91 to take a 2-0 lead in the series. "Blake was aggressive early and set the tone for us," Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. "Chris (Paul) made the plays down the stretch." Paul made the play down the stretch. With the ball in his hands, Paul made a move on Tony Allen and made the winner, an off-balance shot that went off the glass and in with 0.1 seconds left. Griffin set the tone, and Paul finished it, by adding 24 points and huge shots down the stretch when Griffin was double-teamed. "I just thought (Griffin) came out aggressive," Del Negro said. "He made a couple of tough shots. Just trying to attack as much as possible."

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: J.R. Smith won an award Monday for a job he did not want, after a belated evolution few thought possible. Sixth Man of the Year? For much of the last nine years, Smith was perceived more as a liability than an asset: a talent without restraint, a gunner without conscience, a man with an adolescent’s disposition. He could score, yes, but he was just as likely to feud with his coach, be suspended in a playoff series or draw the N.B.A.’s ire with an unseemly Twitter message. He could lose a game with his shooting as easily as he could win one. It was only a year ago that Knicks Coach Mike Woodson, newly in charge of Smith’s career and comportment, declared: “I want his shorts pulled up. I want him to look presentable, be a professional.” A different J. R. Smith stood at a lectern Monday afternoon, looking sharp and confident and fully evolved in a slick gray suit, pressed white dress shirt and thin gray tie, smiling and clutching the first trophy of his N.B.A. career. … Last fall, Woodson told Smith he wanted him to play off the bench, to Smith’s great disappointment. But Smith would play nearly every fourth quarter and every critical possession, making the situation more palatable. He played more minutes (2,678) than any other Knick, and the most of any full-time bench player in the league. “He bought in,” Woodson said. “He didn’t like it at first, but he accepted his role, and he walks away with the Sixth Man award. So I’d say it all worked out for him.”

  • Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe: High on the Celtics’ list of adjustments as they prepare for Game 2 of their first-round series against the New York Knicks here Tuesday night is to establish Kevin Garnett as a force. That plan isn’t exactly top secret, nor is it unexpected. But it’s very necessary after Garnett missed eight of his 12 shots in the Celtics’ Game 1 loss, leaving coach Doc Rivers to say that the team needs to do a better job spacing the floor to help Garnett. “We have to create for him,” Rivers said. “Kevin can’t dribble and pass it to himself.” Paul Pierce took it a step further when it comes to Garnett, saying that they need to do this establishing of Garnett early, unlike in Game 1. Specifically, Pierce said, they need to give Garnett the ball on the first four or five possessions to get him going.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: The record will show that the Miami Heat defeated the Milwaukee Bucks by 23 points in Sunday's playoff opener. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra showed something completely different before Monday's practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. "I don't think we watched one play where we did something good," guard Dwyane Wade said of the video session. He also saw nothing wrong with that, a day after the Heat committed an uncharacteristic 19 turnovers that led the 22 Bucks points. "Pretty much all the film was on what we did wrong. And that's a good thing," Wade said. "We understand that we can play better, we can be more efficient." Because the level of competition will only get tougher should the Heat, as expected, advance from this best-of-seven opening-round NBA playoff series, Wade said Sunday's 110-87 result stood secondary. "With this team, I'm not worried about it," he said. "I'm not concerned about us coming into the game saying, 'Oh, that was easy we can play that way and win every game.' Because you can't win getting 20 turnovers."

  • Michael Hunt of the Journal Sentinel: The long-term BMO Harris Bradley Center agreement, meant to play out the building's life, is a blessing and a curse. The breathing room helps for all of the obvious reasons, but it also allows indecisive leadership to draw out a long-term solution when the languishing Bucks need an adrenaline jolt now. You applaud Herb Kohl for keeping the franchise intact and in town when it would have been much easier for him to sell to outside interests. You can appreciate that he is willing to sell to someone committed to keeping the team around. As much as Kohl cannot make the proper owner appear, nothing would help more than the same kind of fresh-look injection the Brewers received nine years ago with the Mark Attanasio group. Rich guys with both a passion for sports and a willingness to lose money are rarer than the chance of winning a coin toss in the same year Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became eligible for the draft. But that is the kind of seismic event the Bucks need. You think about guys like Vivek Ranadivé, the Indian billionaire businessman who is a Golden State co-owner. While his involvement with the Warriors doesn't speak highly for his sports résumé, Ranadivé is trying to keep the Kings in Sacramento by taking a global outlook on the global sport of basketball. If such a world view might work in Sacramento, why couldn't it fly in Milwaukee? You think of Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets' billionaire Russian owner whose global perspective is making that franchise a hit in Brooklyn. It's a big world with more Ranadivés and Prokhorovs out there. Milwaukee has shaken its parochial leanings. Maybe it's time for it to think big about one of its precious assets as well.

  • Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post: But will Faried start Game 2? "I'll have to see him in shootaround, see how sore he is," Karl said. "But my gut says he probably won't start." That would mean Denver keeps its lineup of Ty Lawson and Evan Fournier in the backcourt, Andre Iguodala at small forward and Wilson Chandler and Kosta Koufos in the low post. If Karl decides to start Faried, who started all 80 games he played this season, the coach will have to make a decision about "Ill Wil." Do you slot Chandler at small forward, Iguodala at shooting guard and put Fournier on the bench? Or do you just replace Chandler with Faried, thus bringing the sparkplug off Denver's bench? In Game 1, Chandler actually corralled 13 rebounds (he averaged just 5.1) but was 5-for-16 from the field, missing all four 3-pointers, en route to 11 points.

  • Monte Poole of The Oakland Tribune: Big Andrew Bogut was back in his comfort zone Monday, deflecting and swatting and discouraging numerous attempts to test his resolve. This was different from last Saturday, when the Denver Nuggets constantly tested the 7-foot Warriors center with shots at or near the rim, only for him to block four and affect maybe a dozen more in Game 1 of this first-round Western Conference playoff series. No, this was a group of reporters out to determine if Bogut, as we approach Game 2 here Tuesday night, would flinch on the subject of his cranky ankle. He did not. "I'm not really going to answer that, because I'm here playing in the playoffs," Bogut responded to the first query about his surgically repaired left ankle. "I'm not going to be one of those guys that says, 'I'm banged up,' or 'I'm not.' What's the purpose anyhow? I'm playing in the playoffs, so it's good." That speaks volumes about Bogut's mindset. He's determined to ignore any barking from his ankle, which caused him to miss 50 games at various points of the regular season, including two of the last three. … Bogut, who put up seven shots in Game 1, likely will be more scoring-conscious in Game 2. But it's more important that he remains a huge factor on the other end, near the rim, where the Nuggets like to live. That's where Bogut lives, too. It's where the Warriors want him to be, where they need him to be, even if his ankle is howling.