First Cup: Tuesday

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: It began as a pact between the two longest-tenured Spurs, on one of the darker nights in franchise history. The Spurs had just lost Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against Oklahoma City last June, completing a collapse from up 2-0. The sweat and tears were still wet when Tony Parker pulled Tim Duncan aside and made a promise. “I promised him we're going to go back to the Finals,” Parker said, “and have an opportunity to win the whole thing.” Monday night at Memphis' FedExForum, site of another now-forgotten Spurs playoff pratfall, Parker delivered on his vow. His season-high 37 points propelled the Spurs to a 93-86 victory over the Grizzlies in Game 4 of this year's conference finals, finishing an unexpected sweep and ticketing Duncan for a return to NBA's championship stage six years after he last exited it. It will mark the Spurs' fifth trip to the Finals, all with Gregg Popovich as coach and Duncan as centerpiece, and their first since 2007. The previous four have ended in championships, a success rate the Spurs would like to maintain when this year's Finals open June 6 against either Miami or Indiana. “It feels like it's been forever since we've been to this point. We've been on the verge of getting here,” said the 37-year-old Duncan. … Along with center Tiago Splitter, Duncan again served as the foundation for a Spurs defensive effort that flummoxed Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies' All-Star forward, into a 4-of-13 shooting night. It was essentially the story of the series for Randolph, who ended the closeout game with 13 points and eight rebounds. The Spurs limited the Grizzlies to 37.2-percent shooting and outscored them by 20 points in the paint.

  • Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal: Center Marc Gasol walked toward the Grizzlies’ bench midway through the third quarter and used an open right hand to smack the scorer’s table with the force and precision of an uncontested tomahawk score. The show of frustration was about the only thing that resembled a slam dunk for the Griz throughout the entire Western Conference Finals. Memphis found it as difficult to score Monday night in a 93-86 Game 4 loss to the San Antonio Spurs as it had all series. The Griz, who struggled to make point-range baskets and free throws, shot just 37 percent as the Spurs completed a 4-0 sweep in the best-of-seven series. “They came out, they had a game plan and they stuck to it through the whole series,” Griz coach Lionel Hollins said. “They didn’t let us come up for air at all. We had a couple of chances in the two overtime games. We had a chance tonight. But they earned the win. They deserved to move on.” San Antonio now awaits the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals between Miami and Indiana.

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Even noted basketball expert Sarah Palin, attending Miami’s Game 3 win here Sunday, likely spoke for many outside Miami watching this series in saying, “The Pacers have this tenacious, scrappy, underdog persona that everybody’s going to root for.” The old misperceptions are pushed away, though, a little at a time, replaced by elbows and sweat. Gradually, increasingly, the Heat should be seen as a team of great adaptability. “Whatever it takes,” as coach Erik Spoelstra reminded again Monday. Miami is still and foremost the top-heavy team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as a starting point, but here is what must be debilitating to opponents. While you cannot out-talent or out-skill the Heat, you cannot outwork or out-want them, either. (Ever notice that Heat and Heart are very close to the same word?) You cannot out-blue collar this team. Just when you think of Miami as represented by a spectacular alley-oop dunk, it is diving for a loose ball to remind that the franchise culture is rooted in defense first. The Heat does not do underdog, no, but Miami concedes nothing in the arena of tenacious and scrappy. This thoroughbred can be a mudder when needed.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: The Indiana Pacers spent most of the regular season at the top of the defensive rankings. They made things miserable for their opposition. Inside or out, it didn’t matter. Their physicality made it tough for teams to score in the paint, and their wing defenders were good enough to contest shots from behind the 3-point line. But the Pacers have run into a different kind of offensive machine in the Eastern Conference finals; one that has made them look like an ordinary defensive team in two of the first three games in the series. The Miami Heat don’t have a center they dump the ball to in the post; their best low-post presence is the small forward. The Heat space the court with five players on the perimeter. And in their two victories in the series, the Heat haven’t had a difficult time scoring in the paint despite Pacers 7-2 center Roy Hibbert anchoring the middle. It’s up to the Pacers coaching staff to come up with a way to slow down a Miami offense that put on a clinic in its Game 3 victory on Sunday. “It’s probably the most difficult offense to prepare for in the NBA,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “That’s the challenge we have ahead of us. I have great confidence in our ability to make up for the areas we were lacking in (Sunday).”

  • Staff of the Chicago Tribune: John Paxson says Derrick Rose received unfair criticism for not returning to action this season and believes the Chicago Bulls star will benefit from the work he did on his body during his time away. Paxson, the Bulls' executive vice president of basketball operations, told WSCR-AM 670 on Sunday that Rose "took a lot of unfair shots" from critics who felt he should have returned late in the regular season or during the playoffs. "It's the way of the world now, the social media, everything that goes on," Paxson said. "Everybody wants to point a finger and blame and accuse and that kind of stuff. And the reality is, Derrick and us, we were all on the same page from the beginning. If he was ready to play mentally and physically, he was going to play. It didn't happen this year." Paxson said Rose will continue his rehab work during the offseason and will be an even better player when he returns as a result.

  • Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun: And now we wait. We wait to see whether the challenge of turning around a Raptors franchise, not to mention a pay hike that is a once in a lifetime thing for only the most unique among us, is enough to offset whatever loyalty or sense of unfinished business is presumably pulling at Masai Ujiri to stay in Denver. By all accounts MLSE's Tim Leiweke has made his best pitch to the Nigerian-born Ujiri. Denver too has come in with its best pitch. Now it’s up to Ujiri. Stay with the team that gave him not just one, but two huge career breaks or return to Toronto where he earned his first management role going from head of international scouting to assistant general manager. Denver was the first NBA team to actually pay him for his basketball expertise. He was a non-paid scout for Orlando when Denver brought him into the fold. Four years later it was off to Toronto where he began as director of global scouting before being promoted to Bryan Colangelo’s assistant general manager.

  • Kurt Kragthorpe of The Salt Lake Tribune: In leaving the Jazz’s coaching staff to take over the Suns, Hornacek is returning to the organization that he helped climb out of depths in the 1980s, and is downtrodden again. So this is where it gets interesting: Hornacek and Tyrone Corbin are in fairly similar positions — or soon will be. The Suns are bad; the Jazz are doomed to get worse before they get better. So we’ll find out who’s the better builder. … Watching him work in Phoenix will be fascinating. Jazz fans can only hope his success does not come at great expense to their team - as measured by how the Suns compete against the Jazz in the West and by how much his absence is noticed in Utah.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Experience is no precursor for a coach’s capability to lift a franchise. The Charlotte Observer studied a decade of NBA coaching replacements for teams coming off losing seasons. It found that coaches with no prior head-coaching experience had more appreciable success (11 of 20) than coaches with prior head-coaching experience (10 of 24). Those who know Hornacek well do not doubt that he is ready. Teams who have interviewed Hornacek about coaching vacancies would not have bothered had they not believed he could do it. Charlotte seemed poised to offer its job late last week to Hornacek, prompting the Suns’ swift movement to lock him up in the job he preferred. Detractors might wish that the Suns had held out for hot names like Indiana assistant Brian Shaw or San Antonio assistant Mike Budenholzer, but there is no telling when their teams will be done in the playoffs and whether they would be interested in the Suns over jobs available in Los Angeles, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee and possibly Atlanta, Sacramento and Toronto, too. With Hornacek, they know they have a coach who wants to be in his hometown, who is immediately available to be part of draft planning and who will not leave for greener grass in a few years.

  • Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer: NBA head coach-turned television analyst Jeff Van Gundy knows new Charlotte Bobcats coach Steve Clifford well. So when Van Gundy compared Clifford to now-Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau, that carried plenty of weight. "Steve Clifford is a no-brainer just like Thibs was" Van Gundy said a while back. "Clifford has been overlooked. It’s just like Thibs, who took forever to get noticed. "But I’ve always said: Some GM is going to make a lot of money off Clifford because he is going to get the maximum level output from his team, and the organization will benefit greatly from that." Clifford, an NBA assistant coach the past 13 years, has been hired as the Bobcats’ sixth coach, a source close to Clifford confirmed Monday. Clifford will be the Bobcats’ third coach in as many seasons, replacing Mike Dunlap, who was fired in April. Clifford is expected to sign a three-year contract, the third year at the Bobcats’ option. He was one of at least six candidates for the job. Former Suns coach (and Shelby native) Alvin Gentry was among those interviewed.

  • Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times: But clearly the player had all the leverage over the coach. Clippers owner Donald Sterling did everything but confirm that scenario when he told The Times' T.J. Simers that "you have to keep the players happy." Say all you want about Sterling — and many people have for many years — but his responses to those questions were refreshingly lacking in the usual public relations spin and drivel. The prevailing theory for years is that Sterling didn't know what was going on. Suddenly, he's the one telling it like it is. And it is, in the NBA, a league where the inmates run the asylum. There has seldom been a bigger Exhibit A than the firing of Del Negro. For the last half of the season, as the Clippers ran off to a franchise-record 56-26 mark, swept the Lakers and took the Pacific Division, the internal discussion was about how to keep Paul. Del Negro was an afterthought, a sacrificial lamb, if needed. Obviously, the Clippers think they needed. … The NBA is a marvel of marketing and branding and getting the public all in a tizzy over its product. TV, all that matters today in sports, dotes on it and it dotes back. The NBA is so busy pursuing its popularity, and the cash flow that it provides, that it hasn't taken time to create a culture, especially in situations such as the Del Negro firing, of doing the right thing. Chris Paul is a great player and a good person. The league should have protected him from himself.

  • Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman: By almost every measure, this year was the worst season of Perk's career. And nobody seems to have an answer as to why. Is it the rash of injuries and mounting surgeries? … Is the Thunder so talented that it couldn't use a steady stream of points, rebounds and blocked shots from Perk? … But why can't Perkins be a stat sheet stuffer? Why can't he provide the most basic plays from his position next season? Because we now know Perkins will in fact be back next season. Thunder general manager Sam Presti recently put to rest any and all doubts over whether Perkins will be waived under the league's amnesty clause. So that ship — at least for this summer — has sailed. At this point it's more productive to focus on how Perk can come back better. The Thunder is on the hook for two more seasons of a contract with Perkins that once seemed like a sweetheart deal. He's owed roughly $19 million over the next two years and appears entrenched as the starter; partly because that's such a sizable salary, partly because the Thunder doesn't have a better option, partly because Brooks is hesitant to change a lineup that has had so much success and partly because Perk does indeed still make a positive impact. Another year of dwindling production, however, and Perk's good might no longer outweigh his bad. Brooks already has become more judicious with Perk's minutes, decreasing his average playing time in each of the past three postseasons.

  • Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel: Matt Guokas isn’t discussing in detail the Orlando Magic’s decision not to renew his contract as the team’s local TV color commentator. But, he released the following statement to the Orlando Sentinel, which broke the story Friday, and to at least one other local media outlet. In that statement, Guokas said: “While the organization has decided to go in another direction, I appreciate the opportunity that the DeVos family has given me over the years. I want to thank the fans at the games, arena workers and people that I come across around town. I am grateful for their support.” Magic fans and national media have expressed their displeasure at the team's decision.