First Cup: Monday

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kevin Durant is showing us how special he is. It was one thing to average 35, nine and six and shoot 51 percent in four games without Russell Westbrookagainst a who-cares-about-defense team like the Houston Rockets. It’s totally different for Durant to open this semifinal series against a defensive-minded team like Memphis and put up 35, 15 and six while shooting 50 percent. Entering this series, the Grizzlies appeared to have the right tools for the job of slowing down Durant. They had Tayshaun Prince, who this season smothered Durant into 39 percent shooting and three turnovers on average in his 115 minutes of court time against Durant. They also had bulldog Tony Allen and, if all else failed, Quincy Pondexter. But Prince’s play tonight made it seem like his regular season success was a fluke. Meanwhile, Lionel Hollins after the game essentially said Allen no longer can defend Durant. “That’s a few years ago,” Hollins said. “Durant’s a few years older. When we put him on him during the season, he just took him to the post and it causes us to help way too much when Durant’s in the post against a smaller guy.” Welp. So so much for that, Memphis. … The two biggest buzz words in this series will be “big” and “small.” There will be a ton of analysis about which team did what when they utilized a big lineup and a small lineup. It started tonight. Get used to hearing a lot more of it.

  • Berry Tamel of The Oklahoman: Was the rough start attributed to both teams playing crucial games just 36 hours earlier? Lionel Hollins: “It's also playing a different club. You've been playing the same team six games. After that first quarter, the teams played pretty decent. It was not a very pretty first quarter.” … Why not use Tony Allen to defend Durant, which you once did? Hollins: “That's a few years ago. Durant's a few years older. When we put him on him in the season, he just took him to the post. And it causes us to help way too much when Durant's in the post on a smaller guy.”

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: So that’s why they gave Roy Hibbert all that money. For games like this. For series like this. For days when he can stand like a sentry at the basket, blocking shots, altering shots, frustrating Carmelo Anthony and J.R. Smith, being the biggest of all the big men in the Pacers tough, immaculate 102-95 Game 1 victory over the New York Knicks. There are a lot of reasons why the Pacers took Game 1 — not stole Game 1, but took it, along with the Knicks’ lunch money — including balanced scoring, thunderous inside play, Lance Stephenson’s floor game and a where-did-that-come-from performance from D.J. Augustin. But Hibbert, who is almost always the biggest guy in the room, was the biggest reason for this victory. The moment and the venue were not too big for any of the Pacers, and certainly not their center, who historically has struggled at Madison Square Garden. “That’s a big reason why we (paid him all that money),” coach Frank Vogel said. “... He’s one of the best rim protectors in the game. He’s really grown and learned how to understand angles and getting no calls, playing without fouling and staying in the game. All the analytics say he’s the toughest guy in the league to score against at the rim.”

  • Steve Serby of the New York Post: The Knicks should know better than this. They should know better than to show up for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals as if it were Game 1 of the regular season. There is no bigger crime than letting an opponent play harder than you in your own building with the stakes this high, no bigger crime than giving the appearance you are resting on your laurels for winning one damn playoff series for the first time in 13 years. The Garden fans can curse the officials until they’re blue and orange in the face, and the Knicks can roll their eyes and flail their arms and shake their heads in disgust all they want, but neither are excuses for Pacers 102, Knicks 95. Carmelo Anthony has no one to blame but himself for his foul trouble and another bout of erratic, if not horrific shooting (10-for-28). He cannot blame his left shoulder being targeted, and Tyson Chandler has no one to blame but himself for getting cut down to size by Roy Hibbert. Loose balls? The Knicks looked like the Game 7 Nets. From the lips of Pat Riley: No rebounds — no rings. “This is a game that you’ve got to get up for,” the Pacers’ Paul George said. “Playing in the Garden, the history behind it ... we know afternoon Sunday games in Madison Square Garden are always big games, so we knew we were going to have to bring it.” You could almost envision Reggie Miller giving the Knicks the choke sign.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Golden State has dropped 29 in a row in San Antonio, a streak dating to Feb. 14, 1997, nearly four months before the Spurs drafted Duncan. Guard Klay Thompson said the Warriors will not be daunted, especially after winning Game 2 on the road in the first round against a Denver team that had won 24 in a row on its home floor. “They didn’t expect us to win in Denver,” Thompson said. “This (Spurs) team is capable of losing here. We have to play a great 48 minutes of basketball. Not good, great.”

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: Stacked with multiple future Hall of Famers, this is the obvious and logical motivational move. The Warriors survived a hammer-and-tong struggle against a Denver team they considered their equal, and now the Spurs are a big step up the ladder. So Jackson is playing down the Warriors' reputation and gushing about Duncan, Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and probably the Spurs ball boys if he could get their names. If anyone should be feeling pressure, Jackson is implying, it should be the Spurs, not his guys. And yet, you know what? The Warriors have what it takes to beat the Spurs -- the right star player, the right chemistry, just the right level of calm cockiness. But it won't be in these playoffs. Give the Warriors and Stephen Curry another year to grow and one more good player and they'll have exactly what it takes to trip up Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. But the Nuggets were the ideal matchup because they had nobody to match Curry and because they were emotional and undisciplined. The Spurs have their Big Three and they have the discipline to cash in on every opportunity.

  • Greg Stoda of the Palm Beach Post: They are professional basketball’s Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The Chicago Bulls are what their nickname says they are: bullish. Now they’re the Heat’s headache in the second round of the NBA playoffs beginning Monday night in AmericanAirlines Arena. The Bulls qualified for the Eastern Conference semifinals with a Game 7 win Saturday night in Brooklyn during which they again demonstrated their remarkable resolve. They have been without superstar guard Derrick Rose (knee) all season, and were without guard Kirk Hinrich (calf) and forward Luol Deng (illness) in taking down the Nets. So it is that the fifth-seeded Bulls arrive in South Florida for the first two games of the best-of-seven set against top-seeded Miami carrying that dangerous nothing-to-lose look. And they’re plenty dangerous — steeped as they are in fierce relentlessness — all on their own. “That’s their foundation and bedrock of who they are,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. “We feel that’s the bedrock and foundation of who we are as well. You have two teams with similar mentalities. There won’t be a lot behind the curtain for either team. We know each other.” The teams split four games during the regular season, and one of Chicago’s victories snapped the Heat’s 27-game winning streak.

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: LeBron James got 120 of 121 frst-place votes for league MVP today (Sunday), denying him the first unanimous vote in NBA history even though he was deserving. A funny Internet rumor spread that my colleague Dan Le Batard cast the lone vote for Carmelo Anthony. It wasn't true. That didn't stop it. "Probably a writer out of New York," surmised LeBron, likely more accurately. LeBatard, sensing Twitter gold, didn't deny the initial speculation, merely re-Tweeted it. … Anyway, the mystery lunatic-voter is still out there. Oh he WILL be found!

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: On March 8, ESPNChicago.com, citing a source, reported that “Rose’s doctor’’ had cleared him to play. The website actually was referring to Brian Cole, the team’s physician. The Bulls did not dispute the report. Rose had been taking part in full-contact practices for weeks at that point. “He’s been cleared to do everything that there is, but before he makes the final step, everyone has to get together and sign off, and that hasn’t happened yet,” coach Tom Thibodeau said at the time. Those simple words — that Rose had been cleared to play — have fueled this entire controversy to the detriment of everyone involved, but none more so than Rose. The words have cut his reputation to ribbons. Everyone and his brother have used them as the backbone of their argument that Rose is gutless. It never should have gotten to that point. Being cleared to play by the Bulls should come with a big, fat asterisk. With all due respect to Cole, the team — not the player — pays the doctor. It has always been so in sports, and it has always been an inherent conflict. Teams want players to play as soon as possible. There is no indication that Cole wanted the information about Rose’s clearance made public. The Bulls shouldn’t have allowed it to get out, but once it did, they should have gone to great lengths to minimize it. They did not. What followed was a steady drip, drip, drip of updates from Thibodeau, who always kept the door ajar for the slim possibility that Rose might return. What was the point of that? To what end? To whose benefit? To put pressure on Rose? All I know is that it raised expectations and contributed to the ugly, toxic attitude toward him. From the start, the Bulls should have said he was going to miss the entire season because of his surgically repaired knee. Had they, there wouldn’t be the misguided resentment toward a former NBA most valuable player.