First Cup: Friday

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: The play that gave the Spurs a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals doesn't have a name. It won't show up in coach Gregg Popovich's playbook. Given the unique unfolding of events, late in the Spurs' 92-88 victory over the defending champion Miami Heat on Thursday, it is a sequence that might not precisely occur again. For 23.9 seconds, with the game in the balance, Spurs point guard Tony Parker dribbled. He probed and he scrambled. Once, he fell down in a full Curly Neal impression. “I thought I lost the ball, like, three or four times,” Parker said. “It didn't work out like I wanted to.” Except it did. Parker rose from the floor at AmericanAirlines Arena, pump-faked past the best player on the planet, and banked in a bouncy 16-footer as the shot-clock expired. The basket, with 5.2 seconds to play, gave the Spurs a four-point lead, sealing a hard-won victory four full quarters in the making. It was the capstone on a 21-point, six-assist night for Parker, who teamed with a do-it-all Tim Duncan to give the Spurs first blood in the series. In their first Finals since sweeping LeBron James' Cleveland team in 2007, the Spurs can seize decisive control in Game 2 on Sunday in Miami.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: It was a classic Spurs victory — doing whatever they could to survive multiple Heat runs before pulling away late in the din of American Airlines Arena to steal Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The usual suspects carried the load, with Tim Duncan drawing and converting a pair of key free throws while Tony Parker scored 10 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, including a miraculous jumper that barely beat the shot clock before banking in with 5.2 seconds left. “It was a crazy play,” Parker said. “I thought I lost the ball three or four times. And it didn’t work out like I wanted it to. At the end I was just trying to get a shot up. It felt good when it left my hand. I was happy it went in.” Said LeBron James, who was defending Parker on the play, “Tony did everything wrong and everything right in the same possession.” Every bit as important, Parker had no turnovers in 40 minutes to set the tone for a disciplined performance by the Spurs. Defensively, the Spurs could not have reasonably guarded James much better, holding him to just eight points in the second half and 18 overall. Kawhi Leonard was the first line of defense, while the rest of his teammates, rarely more than a few steps away from the paint, were ready to collapse at a moment’s notice.

  • Linda Robertson of The Miami Herald: The contrasting styles of the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs could be seen in splendid microcosm by watching LeBron James churn and Tim Duncan pirouette in Game 1 of theNBA Finals. There was James devouring air and stuffing the ball into the basket’s maw. There was Duncan wheeling around Chris Bosh for the lefty hook, his feet in perfect position, his arm arched with protractor precision. On Thursday, Duncan’s steady march through four quarters set the stage for Tony Parker’s concluding burst and a 92-88 victory that at least temporarily snatched home court advantage from the Heat. It was The Big Fundamental versus King James. It was Duncan, leading the multi-champ Big 3 versus the aspiring multi-champ Big 3. In the first game of best-of-seven, San Antonio proved the calmer and tougher team at crunch time. The Heat took a 72-69 lead into the fourth quarter but Parker’s daring lane forays and off-balance jumpers amounted to 10 points that made all the difference.

  • Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: Spurs still win. And the Heat still lost. That’s the phrase that keeps to Heat fans coming this morning. That’s the line that won’t go away even after your run down the good list of contributions from the Heat’s roster. The Heat got solid, representative games from each of the Big Three. Dwyane Wade had 17 points. Chris Bosh had double-digits - 13 points for his first time in five games. LeBron James had 18 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists - a monster triple double. And they still lost. Ray Allen looked like for a while he was having target practice in scoring 13 points. They led much of the game. They out-rebounded San Antonio by nine. They only had eight turnovers. And they still lost? This is what they’re up against. They lost, because this is a title-tested San Antonio team they’re playing this series. Not undermanned Chicago. Not unproven Indiana. Tough, talented San Antonio right down to Parker’s shot with LeBron leaning into him. “That’s why this series will have so much drama,’’ coach Erik Spoelstra said.

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: The Nuggets need a coach. For too long, the Nuggets lived with a guy on the bench who wanted to be the team's star. And how did that work out for George Karl, who has 1,131 regular-season victories on his résumé but has won exactly two games in the NBA Finals? The hot coaching names on the NBA watch list are Indiana Pacers assistant Brian Shaw and Memphis Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins. Both will be good choices for some NBA team. Both seem like bad fits for the Nuggets. Shaw will probably create a bidding war from coast to coast. If Nuggets president Josh Kroenke has learned anything from his father about operating a sports business, it's not to overpay. Hollins demanded the Grizzlies compete on every possession during their run to the Western Conference finals. But he's so fiercely independent that Hollins could induce much of the same organizational heartburn that Karl has. So here are four solid alternatives for the Nuggets to consider. Each of my suggestions could bring his own set of strengths to the bench. One of them can be a good fit for Denver. Chauncey Billups, age 36, L.A. Clippers point guard … Melvin Hunt, age 43, Nuggets assistant coach … David Fizdale, age 38, Miami assistant coach … Alvin Gentry, age 58, NBA coaching record 335-37.

  • John Reid of The Times-Picayune: After the Indiana Pacers were eliminated in seven games last week by the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals, small forward Danny Granger expressed a desire to return to the starting lineup next season, although he missed nearly the entire season with knee problems. Based on their performance this season, the Pacers' best lineup involves having Lance Stephenson as a starter. Instead of trying to upgrade the small forward position with a lottery pick, the New Orleans Pelicans’ best solution could be acquiring Granger in a trade. Granger is from Metairie and played high school basketball at Grace King. He has one year remaining on his existing contract with the Pacers that will pay him $14 million next season before he becomes a free agent. There are no assurances Granger, 30, will return to his All-Star level, but he could provide the Pelicans with more consistent play at small forward and his veteran presence would be a bonus.

  • Kerry Eggers of The Portland Tribune: (Pacers GM Kevin) Pritchard believes camaraderie and togetherness carried the Pacers to success this season. “It’s a great group of guys,” he says. “We’re a true team. It’s a great locker room. Guys cared about playing the right way, about each other. They like each other. Their closeness is a big part of why we had some success in the playoffs. That’s been fun to watch.” Pritchard and Walsh will have some major decisions to make this summer. Do they trade Granger? “We have no intentions,” Pritchard says. Will they re-sign unrestricted free agent David West? “He’s a top priority,” Pritchard says. The Pacers can sign All-Star small forward Paul George to a contract extension after July 1. Will they do that? “Those guys you have mentioned are core players to what we’re pointing toward in the future,” Pritchard says. “We know our priorities. We have to keep all our guys.” The Pacers also have their own draft picks — No. 23 in the first round, No. 53 in the second round — and about $8 million in salary cap room with which to work. What Pritchard never got done in Portland, he aims to accomplish in Indianapolis. After what happened this season, it’s clear he is on the right track.

  • Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press: Could the Pistons have their man? Sources with firsthand knowledge of the situation told the Free Press late this evening that Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks is the front-runner for the Pistons’ vacant coaching position. One source asked not to be named because the deal isn’t final because details are being negotiated, but could be completed over the weekend. Cheeks, who has been on staff with the Thunder for four seasons, has had two previous stints as an NBA head coach with Portland (2001-05) and Philadelphia (2005-08). He reached the playoffs twice in Portland (’02 and ‘03) and once in Philadelphia (’08). His career record is 284-286. … When it was reported earlier today that the Pistons’ other possible choice, former NBA head coach Nate McMillan, was linked to the suddenly vacant Nuggets job, the writing was on the wall. You could take it as a signal that McMillan had received indications that the Pistons were turning to Cheeks.

  • Mike Wells of The Indianapolis Star: LeBron James. Not Carmelo Anthony. Not Kobe Bryant nor Kevin Durant. Strictly LeBron James. He’s the one who causes the fire to burn within Indiana Pacers emerging superstar Paul George. James pushed George to get better after last year’s second-round playoff series in which James’ Miami Heat beat the Pacers. James did it after working with George during the Team USA camp last summer in Las Vegas. He’ll prompt George to do it again this summer as James further established himself as the best player in the world when the Heat beat the Pacers in seven games in the Eastern Conference finals. … George officially arrived on the scene this season, making the first of what could be many All-Star appearances. But he knows he has work ahead if he expects to close the gap on James. That was evident in Game 7 when — with the season on the line — LeBron was LeBron, finishing with 32 points, eight rebounds and four assists. George ended his season scoring seven points — his second-lowest total of the playoffs, on 2-of-9 shooting before fouling out.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: As the NBA Finals go on without them, the Celtics are working the gyms to monitor prospects and working the phones to see what trade possibilities exist. Clearly, this without them thing is something they’d like to rectify. After auditioning a number of players at the team’s facility in Waltham, Danny Ainge took to the road this week in an effort to gather information in advance of the June 27 draft. Meanwhile, there has still been no final decision on next season communicated from either Doc Rivers, who continues to work with the team on next year’s roster, or Kevin Garnett, who, it is hoped, is out in California removing the weary from his body and mind. Nor have the Celts made a final call on Paul Pierce, who, if he is not traded beforehand, must, in 23 days, either be bought out for $5 million or kept and guaranteed $15.3 million. On the other end of the experience spectrum, the Celtics will have an additional month to state their intentions with three other players (Shavlik Randolph, Terrence Williams and D.J. White) before financial promises start kicking in. A fourth in-season acquisition, Jordan Crawford, has a little more than $2.1 million guaranteed, but his place in the rotation is certainly no certainty.

  • Jon Machota of The Dallas Morning News: Dirk Nowitzki said Thursday that he’s excited for July 1, the day teams can officially start talking with free agents. Nowitzki’s first two targets will be superstars Dwight Howard and Chris Paul. While spending some time on 103.3’s Fitzsimmons & Durrett show [KESN-FM], the Dallas Mavericks forward discussed the importance of landing one of those two players. “If we don’t get the two monsters then we got to find another way,” Nowitzki said, “through sign-and-trades or other free agents that are out there.” Nowitzki also made it clear that signing several players to one-year deals, like the Mavericks did last off-season, would not get it done. The 15-year veteran is looking to return to the postseason and adding a star point guard like Paul or a dominant post presence like Howard is probably the best way to get that done. “It’s time to take a step forward and again be a threat in the playoffs,” Nowitzki said.

  • Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic: Taking over a last-place team means the repair can begin just about anywhere. With the Suns, that even could be at the position where they had their best performer last season (Goran Dragic) and drafted a backup at No. 13 a year ago (Kendall Marshall). The Suns followed up Wednesday’s star-studded workout group by bringing in the top four collegiate point guards — Michigan’s Trey Burke for an individual session and Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and Miami’s Shane Larkin for the group workout. They did so even though Dragic is a key rebuilding piece and Marshall is under contract after an uninspiring rookie season. “We are comfortable with those two guys,” Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough said. “But like I said when I took the job and it still continues now, we’re going to draft the best player. Most teams, us included, feel like you need a secondary ballhandler because a lot of the defenses now will trap the point guard or whoever the primary ball-handler is. When he gives the ball up, you need somebody to catch it and make a play.”

  • Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News: That reverse layup against the Lakers, the one in which Doctor J not only defied gravity, he winked at it, hovering like a helicopter, a killer drone before there were killer drones, the crowd gasping in disbelief, then shrieking in joy. Julius Erving swooping to his right, taking off, finding his path to the hoop blocked by the Lakers, Kareem Abdul Jabbar lurking underneath. Doctor J floating behind the backboard, changing direction, legs churning like a guy treading water, pausing . . . and then swoosh slamming the basketball through the hoop. Earvin Johnson, who knows a little about magic, still screeches at the memory. "How," Johnson yelps, "did he do that?" How, indeed? How did he stay aloft, without helium, without a motor or rotator blades or a rocket, that long? Long enough to drift behind the backboard and out the other side, long enough to cradle the basketball and then windmill it through the hoop. Before toppling back to planet Earth. "An illusion," Erving said the other night at Xfinity Live! "If you move the ball or change hands, it just seems like you're up there longer than you are." That's humility. That's grace. That's dignity. That's cooler than a creamsicle. And it's all there in NBA TV's documentary, "The Doctor," which debuts Monday at 9 p.m.

  • Gery Woelfel of The Journal Times: The stars will be coming out Saturday night. That’s when a collection of the city’s top young boys and girls basketball players will be playing in games as part of Caron Butler Day. The local boys team will take on a team comprised mostly of Kenosha and Milwaukee players. The girls game will feature a team of eighth graders and another team of high school players from the city. … “He means a lot to me,” said McMillian, a former Park player who later became a volunteer assistant for the Panthers when Butler played for them. “I have seen how Caron has grown and become a mature man. I have seen the transformation. Caron means a lot to the community. He’s done a lot, especially for the urban area. He is someone who has made it. He has shown you can overcome whatever you had going on in your past. You can resurrect your life. He changed his life around. He did a 360.”

  • Jason Wolf of The News-Journal: Former 76ers general manager and Tower Hill School graduate Pat Williams will receive the Legacy of Excellence Award from the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame during its 10th induction ceremony on Nov. 7, the organization announced Thursday at the Sheraton Philadelphia Society Hill Hotel. Others being inducted include former Sixers great Andrew Toney, former Phillies outfielder Greg Luzinski, former Flyers wing John LeClair, Heisman Trophy-winning running back Eddie George and Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma. “As I look at the list today, I see that Julius Erving is in this Hall of Fame, Bobby Jones is in, Moses Malone is in, Andrew Toney is now in, Maurice Cheeks is in, our coach Billy Cunningham is in, so I can’t tell you what an absolute privilege it is to join those other 76er legends and take my place with them,” Williams said, rasping through a case of laryngitis. “I’m deeply humbled by that.” Williams, 73, was born in Philadelphia, raised in Wilmington and is the architect of the powerhouse Sixers teams of the late 1970s and early ’80s, including the 1983 NBA championship team.