First Cup: Friday

  • Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle: David Lee provided the inspiration, and Stephen Curry provided the much-needed separation. The sixth-seeded Warriors followed the two players who have led them all season and turned Oracle Arena into a place of hysteric celebration with a 92-88, series-clinching victory over third-seeded Denver in Game 6 on Thursday night. … The Warriors moved to 10-1 in home close-out games during their West Coast era (since 1962-63), won a postseason series for the first time since 2007 and will open a best-of-seven, second-round series at second-seeded San Antonio on Monday. None of it came easy. Lee, who was supposed to be sidelined for the rest of the postseason, shocked the 19,596 fans by participating in the pregame layup lines. When the All-Star forward checked into the game with 2:23 remaining in the first quarter and hobbled through 87 seconds of inspiring play with a completely torn right hip flexor, it whipped the crowd into a frenzy and his teammates into a second-half surge. Curry took control from there, going into shoot-spin-and-dance mode in the third quarter. He was so confident in his silky jumper that he would release the shot, and instantly twist to retreat on defense and start celebrating.

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: Get this arrogance: In the ultimate win-or-go-home game, the Nuggets planned on sleeping in San Francisco after Game 6. They boldly informed the hotel staff at their five-star accommodations to turn down the bed covers for them, insisting they would return to celebrate a victory. Before the first team bus rolled across the Bay Bridge toward the arena, Nuggets general manager claimed Masai Ujiri: "I'm leaving something precious in my hotel room." Well, I guess Ujiri left his heart in San Francisco. Would somebody please mail it back to Colorado? The Nuggets showered, packed their bags and took a red-eye charter flight that carried all their regrets back to Denver. A team lovingly and intelligently built by Ujiri won a record 57 games during the regular season, but ultimately proved it wasn't built to survive the stress test of playoff basketball. The Nuggets like to run. But they can't hide the reason for this defeat. Denver cannot shoot straight. … For the eighth time in his nine seasons as Denver coach, George Karl was bumped off in the opening round of the playoffs, this time blowing the opportunity of home-court advantage provided by the third seed in the Western Conference. Elimination games measure the size of the heart as much as the depth of a team's talent. … This was the Denver team Karl wanted. What happens to teams whose coach is the star? They crash and burn. The NBA is a players' league.

  • George Willis of the New York Post: Gerald Wallace admits he has no idea what to expect tomorrow night when the Nets play host to the Bulls in a winner-take-all Game 7 at Barclays Center. “I’ve never played in a Game 7,” Wallace said last night. “I don’t have a clue. I don’t know what to expect.”He will find out now that the Nets have fought back from a 3-1 deficit in the best-of-seven series to play a seventh game on their home floor. As exhilarating as their 95-92 triumph over the Bulls was last night, the Nets understand there’s really no time to start celebrating until they finish the job tomorrow night. “Now it comes down to one game,” Joe Johnson said. “I feel like we’ve got a pretty good chance because it’s going to be on our home floor in Brooklyn. We’ll be ready.’’ Brooklyn will be ready. Now it’s about making memories, the kind of memories that are handed down from generation to generation. The Bulls like to bombard you with their memories. During seemingly every timeout there are video replays of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen and championship trophies. Good for them. It’s time for Brooklyn to start making its own memories, the kind of special moments that winning a Game 7 can provide.

  • Teddy Greenstein of the Chicago Tribune: If Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals was the "Flu Game," this was the "Pandemic Game." Luol Deng was scratched after originally appearing in the starting lineup. He limped out of the arena 10 minutes before tipoff, looking as if he could barely drive a car let alone drive the lane in a playoff game. "He is feeling really bad," teammate Marco Belinelli said. Taj Gibson also was feeling it. Nate Robinson, too. Asked what they had, coach Tom Thibodeau was comically evasive: "A viral something something. Flu-like symptoms, whatever." It turns out that Deng was by far the sickest, but Thibodeau declined to rank them before the game. "Now we're into degrees of sickness?" he wondered. "They're sick. I feel great. Couldn't be better." Thibodeau could not say the same after watching his team struggle down the stretch in their 95-92 loss to the Nets that forces a Game 7 Saturday in New York. The losses of Deng and Kirk Hinrich (calf), coupled with the illnesses of Robinson and Gibson took a harsh toll. Thibodeau used his bench for a total of less than 28 minutes, and it produced just seven points, four rebounds and one assist. The Nets' bench was good for 27 points and 16 boards.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Of all the deep and dark strategic and psychological angles to be explored as the Celtics head into Game 6 against the Knicks tonight, there is a rather basic human reflex that unfolded among three old guys with not too many gunfights left. When the future is uncertain, one tends to cling to the present. Put simply, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry don’t want to stop playing basketball with each other just yet, dammit. At ages 35, 36 and 35, respectively, and with the Celts headed for some major offseason decisions that could very well alter the franchise’s facade next season, the three have taken a look around and decided that a quick exit to the Knicks — these Knicks — was not how they wanted their potential final paragraph together to read. “More important than all of this stuff people are talking about is how do we want to go out?” said Terry. “If we’re going to go out, we’re going to go out fighting and with our whole entire effort out there on the floor. I think that’s been more important than anything in getting us from where we were to here.”

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: The analytics revolution has not yet accounted for the sartorial choices of N.B.A. players, but it is generally accepted that playoff games are not won or lost in the walk-in closet. (Russell Westbrook is proof of this.) So it was not the fact that all the Knicks players arrived at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday in shades of black for a critical playoff game that bothered their coach. It was the implied message that came with their funereal uniformity: that their series against the Boston Celtics — a proud, veteran team, steeped in playoff experience — was effectively over. That a victory would prove a mere formality. It wasn’t the fashion sense. It was the arrogance. “I’m a little upset about that,” Coach Mike Woodson said Thursday, “and I’ve addressed that.” Coming from Woodson, who strenuously avoids criticizing his players in public, this was as strong a statement as there could be. The Knicks have greater concerns after failing twice to close out the series and allowing the Celtics to turn a near sweep into a 3-2 nail-biter. Their 92-86 loss Wednesday would have been troublesome anyway, but it looked much worse given their misplaced confidence. … Chandler and Jason Kidd won a title in Dallas, and Martin made two finals alongside Kidd a decade ago, but the core of this roster has proved nothing on the N.B.A.’s playoff stage. Smith and Carmelo Anthony have been out of the first round only once. Raymond Felton and Iman Shumpert have never won a playoff series. … To recap: the series is not over, the Celtics are not dead, and the Knicks would be wise to save their fashion statements for the off-season, whenever it may arrive.

  • Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Hawks coach Larry Drew reiterated Thursday that he had no problem with the officiating in the team’s Game 5 loss to the Pacers. Drew said the same after a 106-83 loss Wednesday in the first-round playoff series, despite his team getting hit with three technical fouls. What Drew did have a problem with was the way his team lost its composure, much the same way it did in losses in games 1 and 2. “The way we went at the officials, it was like we were playing the blame game again,” Drew said. “I thought we got a great whistle. We got to the free-throw line. It wasn’t the whistle. The way we responded was not the way to get it down. Not in the playoffs. You have to be much tougher, mentally you have to be stronger. … You have to have thick skin. You can’t let things rattle you.” The Hawks took two more free throws than the host Pacers, 37-35. In making 30 of the 37 attempts, the Hawks shot 81.1 percent from the line, by far their best effort of the series. The Hawks entered Game 5 shooting a meager 59-of-103 (.573).

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: Indiana Pacers coach Frank Vogel has been known to shy away from certain ties or shirts he feels are bad luck. But he’s not changing anything for Friday’s Game 6 of the Pacers’ NBA first-round playoff series against the Hawks despite a 13-game losing streak in Atlanta. The Pacers are staying at the same hotel they used in the Atlanta area for losses in Games 3 and 4. “One of the worst things you can do is change up your routine, especially in a big-game situation,” said Dr. Adam Shunk, a sports psychologist at St. Vincent Sports Performance. “Most athletes stick to the basics and do what’s always worked. There’s no reason to change things at a big moment.” The Pacers departed Indianapolis on Thursday afternoon with enough clothes to last six nights. Snap a losing streak that dates to 2006 and they’re possibly headed to New York for the start of a second round series against the Knicks. If the Pacers and Knicks — who lead their respective series 3-2 — close out Atlanta and Boston Friday, Game 1 will be Sunday at Madison Square Garden. First things first, though: The Pacers must end the hex that’s been taking place in Atlanta.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: Francisco Garcia closed in so tightly, Kevin Durant might have looked down and thought he had added a new tattoo. Chandler Parsons was charging from Durant’s right, Patrick Beverley reaching from his left, Omer Asik waiting in the lane. Durant wasn’t this much the center of attention when he showed up for a flag football game during the lockout, but he did not have to look hard to find an open teammate. This was just how the Rockets wanted it. Durant still could have gotten a shot that, for him, would be a good shot, and he often did. But as those shots missed in Wednesday’s fourth quarter, all the open Oklahoma City shooters firing away in his orbit were not enough as the Rockets beat the Thunder 107-100 to force a Game 6 at Toyota Center on Friday night. The Rockets dared the Thunder to make the shots they had given them nearly as brazenly as when Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks repeatedly sent Asik to the line to test his ability to make free throws. “They don’t care about the rest of the team,” Durant lamented after the game, defining the Rockets’ defensive game plan with the same ease as his shooting motion. “When I have the ball, it’s like four guys guarding me at one time.” The Rockets — or perhaps the Thunder players sharing the court with Durant — have made Russell Westbrook look like Michael Jordan in absentia. As valuable as Westbrook has been to the Thunder’s ascent to contender status, other players’ inability to pick up the slack on the offensive end, particularly as the Rockets have grown obsessed with surrounding Durant, has made Westbrook seem irreplaceable. At times, someone might as well have removed their shoelaces.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: (Scott) Brooks' coaching reputation is on the line as this remade Thunder-Rockets series hits the homestretch, with Game 6 Friday night at the Toyota Center and a Game 7 Sunday back in Oklahoma City should the Rockets survive. Brooks does not want to coach the first team in NBA history to lose a series after leading three games to none. Kevin McHale, a heck of a forward in his Celtic days but innocuous in 242 regular-season games as a coach, is making all the right moves in keeping his Rockets kicking. The Rockets we saw in Game 1 12 days ago is nothing like the Rockets we saw in Game 5 Wednesday night. The Thunder is changed, too, by Russell Westbrook's injury. The Thunder has won once without Westbrook and dang near won another, but there's been nothing easy about it. And it's up to Brooks to do something. … Here's what we've learned through five games of Thunder-Rockets. Playoff basketball is not like February basketball. In the postseason, teams grow to know and despise each other. Basketball savvy minds find every flaw in the opponent and try to expose it. Brooks must counter. Both in strategy and in personnel. “Everything is being considered, there's no question,” Brooks said. That's good to know.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Memphis has won the last three games of the series after falling behind 2-0. The Griz lead a postseason series for the first time since going ahead 2-1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals. Randolph leads Memphis in scoring (19.3 points) and rebounding (8) during the postseason. He’s averaging 25.5 points and 10 rebounds at home during the playoffs compared with 13 points and 6 rebounds on the road. Conley ranks second behind Golden State’s Stephen Curry in the NBA in assists (8.6) during the playoffs. Meanwhile, Paul will play despite a bruised left thumb. Griffin did not practice Thursday and received treatment for a high right ankle sprain. Griffin will be a game-time decision. Said Paul about Game 6: “It’s going to take a lot of fight. Playing there has been tough, but we’ve shown the ability to win there.”

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Win or go home. It's the slogan for the NBA during the playoffs and it now applies to the Clippers. The reeling Clippers must beat the surging Memphis Grizzlieson Friday night, on the road, in Game 6 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series or L.A.'s season is over. If the Clippers find a way to win — something they haven't done in the last three games after winning the first two in this best-of-seven series — Game 7 would be Sunday at Staples Center. But winning Friday seems to be a tall order for the Clippers, on several fronts. Blake Griffin said his sprained right ankle has been "fluctuating" between being painful and showing some improvement, leaving his status uncertain for Game 6. Chris Paul said his bruised left thumb is feeling better and promised, "I'll be ready" to play Friday. The Clippers have played poorly this series in Memphis, where they lost Games 3 and 4 by an average of 16.5 points. "Down 3 to 2, going into a hostile environment, you see what you're made of," Paul said after practice on Thursday. "It's what the playoffs are for and that's why we get the chance to correct things."