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First Cup: Wednesday

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: Let’s be honest: The befuddled, frustrated Knicks are out of answers. New York coach Mike Woodson blinked first, rolled out a big lineup for Game 4, much as the Atlanta Hawks did in Game 3. That meant inserting Kenyon Martin into the lineup at the power forward and moving Pablo Prigioni to the bench. “It’s the only choice they’ve got,” TNT’s Reggie Miller told me before the game. Except it didn’t work. The Pacers got out fast, and in no time, all of the Knicks’ big men — Martin, Amare Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler — were in foul trouble. From the beginning, the Pacers dominated in ways they’ve dominated most of this series: points in the paint and rebounds, specifically offensive rebounds. And their defense was typically stifling, ultimately limiting the Knicks to 82 points, 36 percent shooting and just 8-of-28 (28.6 percent) from behind the 3-point line. The Big Two of Anthony and Smith went 16-of-45 (35.6 percent) from the field. What’s Woodson do next? Fact is, if he’s not getting monumental games out of Anthony and Smith, he’s got no options. Big lineup, small lineup or something in between ... the Knicks are in deep trouble. … “Our effort was off the charts,” Vogel said. Did we mention they played a perfect game? The Pacers are as tied together as they’ve been all season, and they’re just 48 minutes from a chance to take their talents to South Beach.

  • Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News: In another era, Patrick Ewing regularly used to infuriate Knicks fans when he would lose to Michael Jordan and the Bulls in the playoffs, and still declare on his way into summer that the Knicks were the better team. Now we’ve got Carmelo Anthony saying basically the same thing, only in his case he’s unlikely to even earn a date with the Jordan of this era, LeBron James. “I still believe we are the better team," Anthony said when he again failed to produce in the clutch and the Knicks fell to the Pacers on Tuesday night, 93-82. “We are not playing at that level right now." Start with Anthony because everything about these Knicks starts with him, and now he is one defeat from the start of a long summer. He’s certainly not playing at the level of a player who finished third in the MVP voting, having failed to score a single point in the fourth quarter of Game 4, as the Knicks fell behind in these conference semifinals, 3-1. But you can also say that he is performing like a player who is in the midst of only his second trip to the second round, and is finding out how difficult it is to win in the playoffs, even if the opponent isn’t James and the Heat. The irony in all of this is that the Knicks have felt that their assortment of bigs, including Tyson Chandler, Kenyon Martin and Amar’e Stoudemire, would give them the upper hand when they faced the smaller Heat in the playoffs. But they can’t even deal with the Pacers, with Anthony growing more frustrated by his inability to carry his team.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: Golden State’s “Splash Brothers” backcourt continued to dry up with Curry scoring nine points on 4-for-14 shooting and Klay Thompson going 2 for 8 en route to a paltry four. Kawhi Leonard had the bulk of the coverage on Thompson, while Danny Green and Parker split time on Curry. Leonard hounded Thompson so thoroughly that he squeezed off just eight shots, none from 3-point range.It was the first time this season he hadn’t had at least one attempt from long range. On the series, Curry is shooting 35.6 percent since his 22-point third quarter in Game 1, while Thompson is shooting 32.7 percent since his 29-point first half in Game 2. … According to WhoWins.com, teams that took Game 5 in best-of-seven series have advanced 85.7 percent of the time. … Tim Duncan’s latest achievement: He scored 14 points with 11 rebounds for the 143rd playoff double-double of his career, tying Wilt Chamberlain for second all-time. (Magic Johnson leads with 157.) Granted, Duncan did it in 199 postseason games compared to just 160 for the Stilt. But any time you can tie a standard set by Chamberlain — on the court, at least — you deserve to take a bow. … The Spurs wasted no time putting one of the worst collective shooting performances in franchise history behind them, erupting for 37 points — almost matching in 12 minutes their post-halftime total of 42 in Game 4 — on 72.2-percent shooting. They couldn’t help but cool off from there, but they still finished at a series-high 51.9 percent with 30 assists on 40 field goals. “We moved the ball very well,” Manu Ginobili said. “That’s who we are and it’s great to see.”

  • Monte Poole of The Oakland Tribune: There was a point in the third quarter of the Warriors-Spurs game Tuesday night when TV cameras caught Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut on the bench. Steph was chewing his nails, Bogut appeared to be in discomfort, and the Dubs were trailing by 11. The Warriors were trying to play catch-up behind the offense of rookie forward Harrison Barnes and veteran guard Jarrett Jack. Moreover, they were hoping to get back into the game with the interior defense of heavy-legged Richard Jefferson and one-legged David Lee and foul-prone rookie Draymond Green. Though each has had his moments, the sight of this particular lineup was a perfectly good time to conclude the Warriors would lose Game 5 of this Western Conference semifinal. … The Curry-Bogut snapshot was a fitting illustration of how the Warriors have come full circle. After a surprisingly good regular season and some incredible performances in the playoffs, they on Tuesday were back where they were when the season began last October. Their postseason run hanging in the balance, they're back to being held captive by the fragile physical states of Curry and Bogut. … No, this is to suggest the Warriors are up against it like they haven't been at any time this postseason. Their most important players are wearing down, and it shows. It will be difficult to win two straight against a Spurs team accustomed to the suffocating air of the playoffs.

  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: The decline in Wade's numbers is often contributed to the injury that has bothered him since early March. He is dealing with a deep bone bruise on the knee that, despite a week off between the first and second rounds, remains an issue. It resurfaced Monday when Wade collided knees with Bulls forward Jimmy Butler in the second quarter of the Heat's 88-65 victory. Spoelstra took offense to the injury being the focus, even though the Heat are one win from advancing to the conference finals for a third consecutive year. "I understand the interest level in it, but what you dislike about team sports is people lose sight of the main thing being the main thing," Spoelstra said. "Dwyane's proven himself as a warrior, he's helping us win and at the end of the day we're up 3-1 with a chance to close out. We knew going into this series that it wasn't going to be about averages and that was one thing we had to have a discussion about before the series." Wade's status is "day-to-day," according to Spoelstra. Unlike last year, there is no structural damage. He did not need to have the knee drained as was the case last season against the Indiana Pacers in the playoffs. The Heat will evaluate him Wednesday before making a decision if he plays in Game 5. They were in a similar situation in the close-out game against the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round. With a comfortable 3-0 lead, the team chose to rest Wade. … Teammates have been aware of Wade's issues for a while. He has just refused to let it become a distraction.

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: It looks like … it’s over. This playoff series moves back to Miami on Wednesday with the Heat up 3-1. As much as we might like the story of the gritty, beat-up team that refuses to die, that story has run its course and collapsed before the finish line. There is no shame in it for the Bulls, who fought hard until the end. Along the way, lots of people started rooting for a team that was down to athletic tape, stitches and a heartbeat. But Miami has too much, and the Bulls have too few healthy bodies. Every shot they took Monday came with labor pains. Many of their jump shots fell short, a sign of tired legs. “It’s tough because you’re getting good looks,’’ Bulls forward Taj Gibson said. “But if you’re not getting the ball up on target, it’s tough.’’ Scoring nine points in a quarter is harder to do than scoring 40 points in a quarter. It was the lowest-scoring quarter in Bulls’ playoff history. Oh, and their 65 points were a franchise low for a playoff game. It’s the latest numerical reminder that talent always wins out in a seven-game series in the NBA. Or, if you prefer, good health always wins out.

  • John Rohde of The Oklahoman: Memphis ranked 16th in the NBA in free-throw attempts at 21.3 per game during the regular season, but is leading all playoff teams in attempts at 31.9 per game. Meanwhile, the Thunder was second during the regular season at 26.8 attempts, but is eighth in the postseason at 24.4. The Grizzlies have taken 20 more free throws in their four games against OKC. Thunder four-time All-Star Kevin Durant shot 27 times in Game 4 on Monday night and went to the free-throw line only once after getting fouled, and that came with 1:48 left in regulation. Durant's lone previous free-throw attempt came on a defensive 3-second call.

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: If you're tired of missing Russell Westbrook, mentally worn down from wondering what might have been, here's a change of pace, Thunder fans. Go back to missing James Harden. Remember when the biggest Thunder mystery was how Boomtown would fare without ol' James in the postseason? Seems so quaint now. Now we know what real trouble looks like. Kevin Durant spent last spring leading the Thunder to the NBA Finals with the help of two co-stars. Now he's trying to survive the Memphis Grinders with the help of no co-stars. So finally, the camp that declared Sam Presti should play out the season without a Harden trade has collected ammunition. It's not that the Thunder needs three stars to win an NBA title or even contend for the same. It's that the Thunder needs two. Which you could well see as the Thunder struggled to dispatch the pesky Rockets, much less these saber-toothed Grizzlies. We all learned Westbrook's value in the eight games since the infamous meniscus — hey, that almost rhymes — injury. But so, too, have we discovered Harden's true value. Elite depth. … The difference between Harden and Martin is not that vast. So the trade was solid. You can't predict that the unbreakable Westbrook will break. But it took the infamous meniscus to make the Harden trade really hurt.