First Cup: Wednesday

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Mike Conley bounced back in a big way. His teammates did the little things late. And now the Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder are even. Conley nearly had triple-double with 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists Tuesday night while guiding the Griz to a 99-93 Game 2 victory in the Western Conference semifinal series at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Memphis knotted the best-of-seven series at 1-1 and will host Game 3 Saturday afternoon in FedExForum. Conley scored six points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer as the Griz outscored the Thunder 10-3 to end the game. Memphis trailed 90-89 with 2:41 left to play. Kevin Durant almost had a triple-double, too, leading the Thunder with 36 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists. This time, Durant was harassed by Griz defensive dynamo Tony Allen down the stretch. The start of the final period was an important stretch for the Grizzlies. Coach Lionel Hollins opted to begin the fourth with his starting lineup on the floor against a group of Thunder reserves.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: All the Grizzlies needed to do was split. They let one get away Sunday but got it done in Game 2. Now it’s up to the Thunder to go to Tennessee this weekend and do the same. “It’s the first team to four,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “It’s 1-1. They did a great job. They came into our building and got a win. Now we have to go into their building and get a win. Is it impossible? Absolutely not.” All those little things that went the Thunder’s way in the final minutes of Game 1, all those steals and deflections, all those big shots and big stops, were on Memphis’ side tonight. … Here was an issue I had with the Thunder’s late-game execution. The wrong players were taking the wrong shots. Much of it had to do with Memphis’ defense onKevin Durant. The Grizzlies made sure Durant would not again be that dude that beat them. They attached Tony Allen to him and sent multiple bodies his direction. Allen was either physical with him or the defensive attention forced Durant to give it up. Still. In the final five minutes, Reggie Jackson missed two 3s, Serge Ibakamissed a corner 3 and Fisher took a tough shot. Each were shots that are fine for the regular season or even the first three quarters of a playoff game. But in the final five minutes, the Thunder has got to get better looks.

  • Neil Best of Newsday: The Knicks' season was on the brink. The Garden crowd was muttering nervously to itself. And Carmelo Anthony was facing another four long days of questions and doubters -- on TV, radio, Twitter and perhaps his own locker room. Less than a quarter later, all of it had changed, suddenly, improbably, dramatically. And there was Melo, walking off the court Tuesday night to a raucous ovation in the late stages of a 105-79 win over the Pacers that evened the Eastern Conference semifinals at one game apiece. What the heck happened? A little bit of everything for the Knicks, whose 30-2 avalanche turned a 64-62 late-third-quarter deficit into a 92-66 lead, with contributions from every corner of the roster other than struggling J.R. Smith. But it began with Anthony, who drove the lane aggressively to tie the score at 64, then drove it again for a dunk on which he was fouled. The three-point play made it 67-64 and the Knicks were off and running. By the time the surge was over, Anthony had scored 16 points, including two three-pointers. He had 32 points and shot 13-for-26 from the field, the first time he has made 50 percent of his shots in eight playoff games. Afterward, when a reporter tried to ask about the pressure Anthony must have been feeling to perform, he cut off the question and said, "I don't play with pressure. I can't. There is no way I can perform under pressure. I won't allow myself to do that mentally to go out there and play under pressure.'' He said, as he always does, that he will not shy from continuing to fire away. "I'm not concerned about my shot,'' he said. "I'm not concerned about that.''

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: It’s like this: As long as the Pacers don’t fumble this series away with turnovers and other silly mistakes, they will win this thing and make those of us who picked the Knicks to win look foolish. Charles Barkley, who will never have to buy his own dinner in Indianapolis ever again, got it right at halftime. That’s when he said the Indiana Pacers don’t have to have a single player play great to win a playoff game. The Knicks, however, need bravura performances from either Carmelo Anthony or J.R. Smith or both. (He also said the Pacers would win this Eastern Conference semifinal series; it was just a matter of how long it might take). He’s right. I didn’t believe that when the series began. After watching these two teams play twice at Madison Square Garden, I believe that now. The Knicks have one answer in this series. His name is ‘Melo. Either he’s a superstar every night, or the Knicks go fishing. They simply can’t count upon anybody else at this point, especially Smith, the Sixth Man of the Year, who’s been busying himself missing shots and tweeting denials he was out clubbing before Game 1.

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Ride with Kawhi: Late in Game 1, the Spurs discovered the best option for containing the sizzling Stephen Curry was perhaps the most obvious one. Gregg Popovich moved 6-foot-7 small forward Kawhi Leonard – a player he has called a budding “Bruce Bowen with skills”—onto the Warriors’ incendiary guard. Also hampered by a masochistic workload that saw him play all but four seconds of the two-OT game, Curry missed 7 of his final nine shots down the stretch. Slapping Leonard on Curry comes with some unpleasant side effects – Tony Parker has to defend a bigger wing player, for example – but look for the Spurs to continue to experiment with it. Solve the Thompson problem: On the other end, the 6-foot-7 Thompson created issues defending Parker, largely keeping the All-Star point guard out of the paint for 31/2 quarters. Then Thompson fouled out with 3:57 to play. Parker finished with 28 points in the double-OT affair, getting 16 after Thompson was banished to the bench. Since hoping Thompson again draws six fouls is not a viable strategy, the Spurs and Parker must find a way to keep their offense humming even with Thompson on the floor. Remember Denver: The underdog Warriors suffered a gut-wrenching loss at Denver to start the first round, dropping Game 1 on an Andre Miller buzzer-beater. They weren’t demoralized then, and won’t be now that they blew Game 1 in San Antonio. “I think the best way to look at is like we lost,” Manu Ginobili said. It’s good advice.

  • Marcus Thompson II of The Oakland Tribune: Anybody expecting the devastating Game 1 loss to have a lasting effect on the Warriors would have been surprised Tuesday. Not only were they feeling good about their chances for Game 2, but they also were finding reassurance in the crushing setback to the San Antonio Spurs a night earlier. At Tuesday's practice, you might've thought they'd won based on the confidence they exuded. Many think the Warriors are done, that they missed their one shot to control this best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series. But the Warriors say they feel good about their prospects for Game 2 on Wednesday. To them, the heartbreaking, 129-127 loss in double overtime also was reassuring. No doubt, it sounds crazy to think of an epic collapse being a confidence builder. But these Warriors are a little bit crazy. Too young to know any better, too brazen to be intimidated by reality. The Warriors, tempered by respect for an NBA institution, are convinced San Antonio has to deal with them. "We deserve to be here in this situation, regardless of age and experience," point guard Stephen Curry said. "We feel very confident with where we're at right now."

  • Joseph Goodman of The Miami Herald: If Nate Robinson’s ability to create havoc in the Bulls’ pick-and-roll game seemed vaguely familiar, that’s because former Dallas Mavericks reserve J.J. Barea, also tiny by NBA standards, pestered the Heat in similar fashion during the 2011 NBA Finals. Robinson had his breakout series last week against the Nets, averaging nearly four more points per game than in the regular season, and he will continue to be a focal point of the Bulls’ offense with guards Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich out of action. He had 27 points and nine assists in Game 1. Robinson found room to operate against the Heat late in the game, but it’s not like he wasn’t on the Heat’s scouting report. Allen emphasized putting pressure on Robinson before the series started, saying the Nets let Robinson “move all over the place.” “The pick and rolls he came off, he was very free,” Allen said a day before the second-round series began. But it takes two levels of defenders to deny a player of Robinson’s quickness and strength of a clear path to the basket, so placing all of the blame on Allen and Chalmers would be inaccurate. The Heat’s frontcourt players share equal responsibility for picking up Robinson once he moves into the paint. After Monday’s defensive debacle, LeBron James said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if he was “stuck” guarding Robinson late in games. “I’ll take the challenge on anyone,” James said.

  • Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times: Has Joakim Noah proved to be a warrior the last few weeks? Definitely. But there’s no question he’s still a work in progress, and that’s a good thing. “Yeah,’’ coach Tom Thibodeau said, “and I hope he continues to improve until the last year he plays in the league. I want him to have that approach. I want him to remain hungry. He’s also an All-Star now, and I think if he keeps working at it, I can see him being a defensive player of the year. “But the most important thing about him is he plays to win, and you can’t undersell that. Jo can have five points, 10 rebounds and four blocks, have great impact in the game, and he’s happy because we won. That’s the most important thing for him.’’ And that’s also what draws Bulls fans to Noah. Derrick Rose is still the face of the franchise, but Noah is the soul. In a city where the blue-collar mentality is still embraced, Noah might be the athlete that best exemplifies it. Plays hurt? Check. Plays to win? Check. Plays with swagger? Check.“[Noah’s] a warrior, and everybody is following him,’’ Rose said.