First Cup: Tuesday

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: OK, the playoffs just got interesting fast for the Heat — fast as a punch to the gut that you don’t expect. They sure weren’t interesting in the first round. They weren’t supposed to be entering this second round. They are now. Suddenly. A 93-86 Game 1 loss at home to the Chicago Bulls will do that. Miami isn’t supposed to lose here, right? Isn’t supposed to lose at all, after winning 41 of the previous 43 games. Isn’t supposed to lose to a Bulls squad depleted by injury. Isn’t supposed to lose on a night that began with LeBron James accepting the NBA MVP trophy in a pregame ceremony. Yet it was LeBron and his Heat teammates slumping off the court as the seconds ran away. It was the “White Hot” crowd filling the bayside arena that was drained of all its noise and life. And it was a fist-waving, pogo-ing Joakim Noah spitting his angry joy among the celebrating Bulls. This result will get the nation’s attention. It will set the sky to falling with too many fans in Miami. It might be nothing more than a stumble from which Miami will recover hugely in Wednesday night’s Game 2 here, and beyond. Until then, though, until then, the burden and weight has shifted onto the reigning NBA champions to prove themselves all over again.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Tom Thibodeau is Lucifer. He finds a way. And Jimmy Butler? Relentless. As is Nate Robinson. There was plenty of rust from the Heat. But that's no excuse against an opponent lacking for bodies. LeBron James came around. But that was about it for the Heat. Yes, Dwyane Wade showed he is over the bruised right knee. But that late 3-point attempt? Not the right spot for hero ball. Chris Bosh has to give more. Has to. If this is going to be a series of attrition, the Heat should be well positioned. Heck, even Mike Miller entered early. And Erik Spoelstra got creative early, playing LeBron against Joakim Noah in the second quarter.

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: Please pay close attention to the following names: Marco Belinelli made a three-pointer to tie the score at 86 with just less than two minutes left. Chris Bosh missed a shot, and Belinelli rebounded it. Nate Robinson made an 18-footer to give the Bullsa two-point lead. Dwyane Wade missed a shot. Robinson followed with a drive to put the Bulls ahead by four. LeBron James threw up an airball. To sum up: Belinelli and Robinson for the Bulls; James, Bosh and Wade for the Heat. Ridiculous. Jimmy Butler did a superb job on James, who picked up his fourth MVP trophy before the game. Oh, James finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but Butler challenged him on every play. It was why James attempted only 17 shots. Let’s try to put the game in perspective. The degree of difficulty on this game was much higher than it was when the Bulls ended the Heat’s 27-game winning streak. This game was in Miami; that one was at the United Center. This is the playoffs; that wasn’t. I’m sure there have been uglier displays of basketball, but most of them involved blindfolds and shackled ankles. Nobody seemed to want the ball. Carlos Boozer seemed to think it carried a virus. The only way it could have been better for Thibodeau is if there were quicksand involved. The first half didn’t just set NBA basketball back 70 years; it set fine motor skills back millions of years.

  • Monte Poole of the Contra Costa Times: Having played all but four seconds of a 58-minute playoff game, Stephen Curry dragged himself into the interview room seeming tired and looking exhausted and doing all he could to avoid sounding defeated. He had performed to the limits of his endurance, surely leaving a part of him on the floor. Finishing with 44 points and 11 assists, Curry had put his team in command, seemingly done enough to finally vanquish a San Antonio Spurs team with a long-held dominance over the Warriors. And yet it was not enough. The Spurs pulled themselves together for a stirring comeback to tie the game in the final minutes, sending it into overtime and then double overtime before taking a 129-127 victory Monday in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals. Curry and the Warriors were left to deal with heartbreak. … How can they not believe, on some level, that this is a curse? How do they tell themselves that history is only history, with no current significance or mythological meaning? When Kent Bazemore's layup gave the Warriors a one-point lead with 3.9 second left in double OT, this was end of The Streak. It was over, dead at 29. If the Warriors can't win this kind of game here, how on earth are they supposed to believe they'll find a way to steal a close one in this place? "We know how to come back because we have been a resilient team all year," Curry said. "We just have to turn it back on and be ready for Game 2." Sounds easy, does hard. This was an especially cruel way to go, seemingly as much about a power beyond them as it was about their own skill. The Warriors will indeed need everything they have inside when they return to this place Wednesday night.

  • Chris Harrington of the Memphis Flyer Early on, we talked about how defending Kevin Martin would be a key to the series. At the end, they brought it back to Martin, saying — and I agree — that he's become the biggest “x-factor” for the Thunder since Russell Westbrook's injury. Then they asked if I thought there was a Grizzlies player whose performance was a barometer of team success. I laughed. Funny you should ask … I've been half-jokingly touting the Conley Correlation all season — predicting it before the season, really — and it's mostly held up in the playoffs. In Game 1 against the Clippers, Conley looked overmatched, particularly in the first half, and the Grizzlies were blown out. After that, Conley settled down and played Chris Paul, if not quite even, at least closer than most would have expected, putting up a massive 28-9 in a Game 2 that was only lost on a last-second shot by Paul. … If the Grizzlies are going to have a chance to win this series, that can't stand. Facing the athletic but inexperienced Reggie Jackson or the 38-year-old Derek Fisher in most instances, Conley needs to assert himself. He's the best all-around guard in this series now, and the Grizzlies probably won't win unless he plays like it. On the other side of the floor, the Grizzlies have to fix their defense against Martin. After shooting 1-10 in Oklahoma City's Game 5 home loss to Houston, Martin has scored 50 points on 15-27 shooting in the Thunder's past two games, the Game 6 road closeout against Houston and then Sunday's Game 1 against Memphis. … There's going to be a lot more to this series than the production of Conley and Martin, but if they go in opposite extremes — as in Game 1, to the Thunder's benefit — I think that would be decisive. Tuesday night, in Game 2, we'll begin to see if Conley can bounce back and the Grizzlies can make the right adjustments on Martin.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: Kendrick Perkins might be the most unappreciated player on the Thunder, maybe even the most unappreciated player in the league at his position. His numbers don’t jump out at you on the stat sheet. His strengths aren’t sexy. His contract, to some, is a sore subject. The most ardent Perkins critics think the Thunder center should have been amnestied when the team had a chance last summer. They still think the Thunder should to this day. Just this morning, in my weekly chat, I fielded a question about the chances the Thunder actually amnesties Perkins, which means the team waives him and wipes his salary off the books (although the team still must pay him). In Sunday’s paper, I wrote about why amnestying Perkins isn’t likely to happen. But regardless of how little sense it would make for the Thunder to essentially pay Perkins to play somewhere else, many still think the team should have done it yesterday. How does Perk feel about his critics? He hasn’t hesitated in the past to fire back at backlash. But today, following a light practice session that included only film study and shooting, Perkins was asked if he felt like fans undervalued or under-appreciate what he brings and just look at the box score. “Not really,” Perkins replied.

  • Howard Beck of The New York Times: Carmelo Anthony is mired in a horrendous shooting slump. J. R. Smith has reverted to old, bad habits. And a once-fearsome offense has been neutered under the pressure of the postseason. The Knicks had other problems in Sunday’s loss, which were readily conceded. They were outworked in the lane and on the boards, and their defense wilted against Indiana’s beefy front line. Those are mostly effort issues, which are easily addressed. The offense is a more troublesome matter. Over the last four games — including three first-round games against Boston — Anthony has converted 35 of 110 shots from the field, for a .318 shooting percentage, a low rate even for him. He has not made half his shots in any game since the playoffs began. Smith, the Knicks’ second best scorer, is 12 for 42 (.286) in the three games since he returned from a one-game suspension in the Celtics series. The Knicks will ultimately go only as far as Anthony and Smith can carry them; right now, they are having trouble generating any momentum. Their shooting woes were muted in the first round because Boston could not score, either. But this could become a fatal handicap against the Pacers, who score and defend better than the Celtics. For the first time since mid-March, Coach Mike Woodson had to talk about shot selection. “They’ve got to try to take better shots sometimes,” Woodson said of Anthony and Smith. “Sometimes, some of the difficult shots that you’ve been accustomed to making, that you’re not making, you’ve got to figure out a way to get better shots. I think they’re capable of doing that. Only time will tell.”

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: I was wrong about Lance Stephenson. I’m sure I have lots of company, there. When the Indiana Pacers took him in the second round of the 2010 draft — and gave him a guaranteed contract — I thought Larry Bird was hitting the liquor cabinet. Stephenson was a too-typical New York City schoolboy who thought the world revolved around his very being. He was Mr. “Born Ready,” an immature kid who not only didn’t listen to coaches but got into some ugly skirmishes off the court. He didn’t seem to fit, especially with a franchise that was still trying to dust off the debris from The Brawl and other misdemeanors. At the very least, it was a leap of faith, a huge risk, even in the second round. Deemed untouchable and uncoachable, then-team President Larry Bird fell in love with Stephenson’s raw — emphasis on raw — talent. Early on, it was a disaster. He never played. “Born Ready” was born to sit. There were off-the-court problems, and he didn’t fit in the locker room with grown men. Roy Hibbert recently described Stephenson as an “(expletive)” in those early years, and there were altercations involving Stephenson and teammates. But now, this season and in this postseason, Stephenson is emerging as a glue guy, a do-it-all shooting guard who can defend, rebound, make plays slashing to the rim and push the ball up the floor. I was wrong. A lot of us were wrong.