First Cup: Thursday

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: The new tough-minded, cool and resilient, ain’t-no-call-in-the-world-gonna-cause-us-to-trigger-another-nuclear-meltdown Hawks returned to action Wednesday night. And they stuck around — for about a quarter and a half. Not long enough. What was it coach Larry Drew said earlier Wednesday when asked what had to change from when his players packed a suitcase, but clearly not their lithium, for games 1 and 2 of this playoff series? “Very glaring,” he said. “In games 1 and 2 we were not a very aggressive team, and we complained about all of the calls. You have to play through that. You can’t let that be a reason why we don’t play well.” … Question: What happens to the Hawks when their coach doesn’t tell his players to keep their cool? The Hawks lost by 23 points, 106-83. The Pacers now lead the series 3-2, with Game 6 in Atlanta on Friday. Drew has 48 hours to hose everybody off until then. Said Al Horford, “I know at times it can get frustrating but we can’t do that, especially on the road. … We have a group of emotional guys who want to win. But you have to be smarter.”

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: For weeks now, coach Frank Vogel has been waiting for a vintage Indiana Pacers defensive performance. For weeks, he’s been looking for the active hands, the help-side defense, the dig-in mentality that made the Pacers a dangerous and intriguing team all season long. Finally, after 12 straight games of giving up 90 or more points, the real Pacers — or at least we think they’re the real Pacers — showed up when they had a “must” win playoff game. Finally, after 12 games of watching their defensive numbers become bloated, the Pacers did a number on the Atlanta Hawks, beating them 106-83 in Game 5, taking a 3-2 series lead in a foul-besotted game that seemed to last four hours. The 90-point number is not an insignificant statistic for the Pacers. They were 31-6 during the regular season when holding opponents below 90, 18-26 when they did not. That, friends, was vintage. That was the Pacers who finished third in the Eastern Conference with 49 victories. That was who they are, but haven’t been in way too long.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Doc Rivers is fond of bringing in additional coaches during the playoffs. Which makes it a bit unfortunate that Terry Francona has a new gig. But it’s fair to assume the Celtics coach will, if he hasn’t already done so, be ringing up his old pal, the former Red Sox skipper and current Indians manager, as he tries to stitch together Celtics-Knicks 2013 with Sox-Yankees 2004. Rivers had to reach when his band of Bostonians fell behind the New York entry, 3-0, in this first-round playoff series. Hey, the basketball talk wasn’t exactly getting through. But after last night’s 92-86 Shamrock shakedown of the Knicks, it’s 3-2, and there has to be at least some trepidation on the latter’s plane as it heads to Boston today for a Game 6 tomorrow night that they never thought would be necessary. “Well, I’ll just say we’ve talked about something in that (vein),” said Rivers of the reference to the Red Sox’ comeback from three down in the American League Championship Series. “I’m not going to give you what we talked about, but it’s a guy. We’ve talked about people . . . yes. I’m not going to say what.” According to Celtics players, their coach told them about Kevin Millar, who now famously told people prior in ’04 that the Yankees shouldn’t let his team get Game 4. He reasoned that the Sox had Pedro Martinez and Curt Schilling set to start Games 5 and 6, and if his club got to a seventh game, anything could happen. “If we win this next game, then anything’s possible,” said Jason Terry.

  • Marc Berman of the New York Post: The Knicks and J.R. Smith said this series was over, but somebody forgot to tell the Celtics. In nothing short of a choke, the shaky Knicks allowed the Celtics to keep their season alive and take Game 5 in a 92-86 shocker Wednesday night at the Garden, staving off a so-called “funeral’’ for Boston. The Knicks appeared to get too full of themselves in the past few days and it cost them. Smith bragged the series would be over if he played Sunday. Following the lead of Kenyon Martin, several of the Knicks players had black jackets and black slacks hanging in their lockers before the game, pretending they were attending the Celtics’ funeral. After Game 4, Martin said he would wear black Wednesday after Jason Terry told him Sunday he wouldn’t let the Knicks dance at their funeral. Martin did and his teammates did too in a presumptuous move for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2000. “We were going to a funeral, but it looks like we got buried,” J.R. Smith said. The Knicks still lead the series 3-2, but it’s headed back to Boston, echoing memories of 2004 when the Red Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit to trounce the Yankees. No NBA team has recovered from a 3-0 series deficit.

  • Nick Matthews of the Houston Chronicle: Kevin Durant apparently doesn’t know Omer Asik. The way Asik is playing, Durant will soon. In the fourth quarter of the Rockets’ 107-100 Game 5 victory, Oklahoma City used a strategy of fouling the Rockets’ center intentionally in hopes of making a comeback. It didn’t work, as Asik made 7-of-12 free throws in the stretch and eventually finished with 21 points. Durant called the strategy — “Hack-A- … Whatever His Name Is.” “We used hack-a …” he stumbled, trying to say Asik’s name, “whatever his name is, that kind of slowed the rhythm down a bit.” Oklahoma City was down 92-82 when it began the strategy and only cut the lead to 99-92 before giving it up. Here’s guessing that Rockets coach Kevin McHale might bring that one up to Asik for motivation.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: The Thunder-Rocket series is proving two things, at least on the Oklahoma City side. How good Kevin Durant is. And how good Russell Westbrook is. The Rockets clubbed the Thunder 107-100 — it wasn't that close — in Game 5 Wednesday night, and everyone in Thunder blue is thinking the same thing. Uh-oh. History could be in the making. No NBA team ever has won a playoff series after trailing three games to none, but the Rockets are halfway there. And headed home to Houston. “Go home for Game 6,” said Rocket star James Harden, who posted a cool 31 points on 10-of-16 shooting. “It should be interesting.” Nothing but interesting. Even in victory, the Thunder has seemed completely lost without Westbrook, the mercurial point guard who suffered a season-ending knee injury in Game 2. Without Westbrook, the Thunder load is completely on Durant, who was mighty for three quarters Wednesday night, with 36 points on 11-of-18 shooting.

  • Christopher Dempsey of The Denver Post: How physical will Game 6 be? The Nuggets took their shots in Game 5 — and received a few as well. Will they continue this style of play? Perhaps more important, will the referees let them? Getting more hands-on with the Warriors was a large part of the Nuggets' success Tuesday. Golden State is ready to respond. Will the supporting cast show up again? Ty Lawson has been the lead player for the Nuggets in this series, but he had plenty of help in Game 5. Andre Iguodala nearly had a triple-double (25 points, 12 rebounds seven assists). All five starters — including a newcomer to the opening lineup, center JaVale McGee — scored in double figures. Wilson Chandler had his best game of the series, scoring 19 points (including five 3-pointers). Can the Nuggets force a Game 7? Denver needs to win Thursday night in Oakland, Calif., to play Game 7 at the Pepsi Center (where the Nuggets are 40-4 this season) on Saturday. To win Game 6, Denver needs to play better in the second half. During the series, the Nuggets have been outscored by 30 points in the second half.

  • Carl Steward of The Oakland Tribune: While coaches Mark Jackson and George Karl continued firing shots Wednesday regarding alleged dirty tactics against Stephen Curry, Curry was ready to move on to new business. Curry said undue focus on the mounting physicality in the opening-round playoff series can only do a disservice to himself and his Warriors teammates as they try to finish off the favored Denver Nuggets at Oracle Arena on Thursday night. "Nobody's really talking about it in the locker room," said Curry. "We're just approaching Game 6 like normal. You can't get distracted by that. We have a chance to close out the series at home. It's a big opportunity we have to take advantage of." Jackson, however, continued to zero in on the Nuggets' rough treatment of Curry, specifically what he viewed as an intentional kick by forward Kenneth Faried to Curry's ankle. "I can live with physical basketball. Taking a stab at Steph Curry's ankle is not physical basketball," Jackson said. "If you attempt to kick him with your foot on his foot, that's not a basketball play. That's a cheap shot." Karl responded to Jackson's assertions at Denver's Wednesday practice. "My basic reaction is he's watching a different movie than I'm watching," Karl said. "If there's a scorecard and we're in a boxing fight right now, they're winning the fight. We won a round (here and there), but I'm going to tell you, I'll go to any arbiter now and show the dirty shots -- they're winning."

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: During the Game 5 telecast on TNT, Steve Kerr was asked about Rose working through the mental hurdles of coming back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and said, “I think where the Bulls are now with this series with Kirk Hinrich struggling with the calf injury, if Derrick is OK and there’s no threat to further injury, I think he’s got to play. He has to put himself out there for 15-20 minutes. “Look at what [Joakim] Noah and Hinrich are putting themselves through with their injuries. I think it’s time for Derrick . . . maybe he owes it to his teammates.” Hinrich said Rose doesn’t owe them anything. “We don’t feel that way,’’ Hinrich said. “We know what kind of guy he is and what kind of teammate he is, and we don’t feel that way. I haven’t heard one ill word said about it. You give a guy who has that type of character the benefit of the doubt. We know that he’s such a big part of this organization and this team that we trust he’s making the right decision for that and for himself.’’ Rose was working on his outside shot at the end of practice Wednesday but did not meet with the media, trying not to be a ¬distraction. Good luck with that.

  • Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News: Belief is important. Talk is cheap. The Nets have always walked along that thin line. So why stop in the playoffs? "There's no doubt in our mind we are the better team," Andray Blatche said Wednesday, a day before Game 6 against the Bulls. "We're just in a hole." When the Nets step on the United Center court Thursday, they'll be one loss from elimination, one heartbreak away from a disappointing inaugural campaign in the outer borough. But trailing the Bulls hasn't sapped Brooklyn's public confidence, which has been swollen from the time players declared their championship aspirations in training camp. But the Nets have good reasons to trump their chances against the banged-up Bulls. They'd be leading this series if anything had gone right in the final three minutes of regulation in Game 4. Chicago point guard Kirk Hinrich missed practice Wednesday and is listed as "day-to-day." Derrick Rose is still unlikely to walk out of the locker room in a uniform. Joakim Noah is injured and getting abused by Brook Lopez. The Nets have a full roster, albeit with a starting shooting guard, Joe Johnson, who said Wednesday that his plantar fasciitis has him playing like "a decoy."