First Cup: Monday

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: Well, Portland beat Houston on Sunday 123-120. Goes without saying, the game went overtime. It was another peptic ulcer. And what we now have is a Blazers team that stands on the cusp of breaking all that franchise futility, up three games to one against the Rockets. "One more," LaMarcus Aldridge cried out after. "One more." The big guy spoke for the state. ... I looked up at the 300-level at the beginning of the overtime and saw the silhouette of a man just standing, arms raised over his head for a solid, hopeful, minute. Down on the 200 level, a woman covered her eyes while Aldridge shot free throws later in the period, missing both. Below that, in section 119, a bald woman named Julie and her husband, Bill, held each other close, watching the final seconds melt from the clock. "Fallopian cancer," she said to me. "How are you doing?" I asked. "Not well," she said. "So this is a nice night out." The Blazers played for coach Terry Stotts on Sunday. They played for each other. They played for themselves. But all around, it was unmistakable — they played for Blazers fans, too.

  • Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle: The ball bounces both ways: A game after Jeremy Lin came up with a loose ball to set up the game-winning shot, he lost the ball to set up the Blazers go-ahead shot in the final half minute. The Rockets had been instructed to call time out unless there was a clear breakaway, but Lin tried to dribble through traffic, was cornered by Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews with the Rockets holding a two-point lead and just 28.9 seconds remaining. Moments later, Mo Williams it a 3-pointer to put the Blazers in front. It starts at the point: The Rockets point guards have been outplayed by Damian Lillard in the series, which is not to be unexpected against one of the league’s bright, young All Stars. But Sunday, was a mismatch. Pat Beverley, who was out sick Saturday and through most of Sunday, missed all four of his 3-pointers, and did not score in the second half. Jeremy Lin made 1 of 6 shots, missing his only 3s, and committed the back- breaking turnover in the final half minute when the Rockets were instructed to call a time out. Damian Lillard had 23 points with eight assists and just two turnovers in 47 minutes handling the ball.

  • Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: The Clippers tried. Oh, did they try. One day after being dragged into the center of national outrage with the release of an audio containing racist statements purportedly made by their owner, Donald Sterling, the Clippers tried to play through the storm. They showed up even though they considered boycotting. They staged a silent pregame protest involving their uniforms even though some friends and family members were urging them to be more militant. This group of mostly African American men truly tried to stay focused for a franchise owned by a guy who allegedly had just been heard disparaging African Americans. But on this saddest of Sunday afternoons, it was all too much. The turmoil of racism won. The distraction of hate prevailed. The stress of trying to be a national symbol of resilience against a centuries-old demon — while playing a postseason basketball game in the raucous arena of a sizzling opponent, the Golden State Warriors — was overwhelming. The Clippers showed up empty. They were never in the game. They were never out of their heads. They trailed by 18 points in the first nine minutes and never really threatened again, losing, 118-97, to tie this series at two games apiece. "Maybe our focus wasn't in the right place," J.J. Redick said. "That's the easiest way to say it." Most of them wouldn't say it, but during the game they all said it.

  • Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News: This is all about the controversy involving purported racist comments by Clippers owner Donald Sterling -- released late Friday -- and the presidential response and the international furor and demands for investigations and penalties. ... After all that, well, who can say what will happen next? In the locker room after Game 4, I asked Warriors veteran Jermaine O'Neal if he has any feel for this series yet. "No, no, no," O'Neal said with a slow and weary head shake. "There's so many side things going on." More things than are dreamt of in anybody's philosophy or playoff plans, I'd say. ... "I'm not going to deny that we had other stuff," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said afterward. "Listen, I just believe when the game starts, the game starts, and nobody cares anymore. Golden State surely didn't care. ... "We're going home now. And usually that would mean we're going to our safe haven. And I don't even know if that's true, to be honest." Nobody knows anything with this series, because this is unprecedented, and because you can't plot out guaranteed human responses to human repugnance. There is no map or formula. The Warriors will just show up, the Clippers will too, and may the least distracted, most focused team win.

  • Mike Wise of The Washington Post: It’s too early to book a flight to Indiana or Atlanta for the second round, but it’s not too much of a stretch to see the Wizards taking their last trip to Chicago this season Tuesday night for Game 5. Memo to network executives: This isn’t going seven. And it’s not about the Bulls not having enough offense to get it there anymore; it’s more about the Wizards’ maturity and heart, which is beginning to match their talent. Their stumble and loss of composure in Game 3 had no carryover Sunday. They moved the ball with precision and purpose; they didn’t caress the boards; they went Chicago-hard after every errant ball. This wasn’t merely a “sense” of urgency, this no-Nene, no-problem, wire-to-wire, 98-89 Game 4 triumph Sunday that put the Bulls on the ledge and sent the Wizards improbably to within one game of their first series victory in nine years; it was urgency, distilled in its purest form. Hell, it was exigency and necessity and anything else the online thesaurus can find. ... It’s a pleasure to watch an NBA team spin a town on its fingertips in the District again, a team that understands it has one win left to feel any real sense of satisfaction and that that satisfaction may well have never come if it did not play with the deliberate fire it did Sunday — the best day of a season that is suddenly headed toward May.

  • K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune: If troubling trends — slow starts, turnovers, below-average defense — aren't fixed by Tuesday's Game 5, the disappointment will linger into the offseason. The Bulls have never rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win a playoff series in franchise history. "It's just disappointing," Kirk Hinrich said. "We thought the mistakes we're making, we could correct them." Instead, the Bulls committed 16 turnovers which the Wizards converted into 29 points. They allowed 50 percent first-half shooting before tightening the screws in the second half, but they still allowed Trevor Ariza to score a playoff-high 30 points and tie a franchise-playoff-record with six 3-pointers. And most disappointingly, they suffered a train wreck just after tipoff. To call the start slow would be like saying gridlock exists in Congress. Thibodeau burned two timeouts and the Bulls missed six shots with two turnovers before Jimmy Butler finally dented the scoreboard with a jumper at the 7-minute-48-second mark. The Wizards led 14-0 and 19-4.

  • Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca: Once upon a time, Kyle Lowry was a man with an attitude problem. He’ll tell you as much. If you only started following the Toronto Raptors this year, or if you’re back to this most pleasingly unexpected version after stepping away for a little while, you’ve never met that guy. The Kyle Lowry on display this season and in particular here this remarkable night in Brooklyn is the kind of athlete we all feel good paying money to watch. He’s plays for money, for sure. But no one competes like he does just because of money. The Raptors’ 87-79 win on the road at the Barclays Center was just more proof. The Nets are the NBA’s $200-million team. The Raptors are the franchise that can’t shoot straight. The last time they won a playoff game on the road was May 6, 2001. And then they pull this one off with a display of guts and resiliency and simply the will to hang around that can only be a worthy introduction to anyone who hasn’t been paying attention. ... “I’m okay, it’s controllable,” Lowry said of his knee when asked if he needed to be mindful of it heading into free agency. “We can do what we need to do to get through the playoffs. It’s nothing I need surgery for or anything like that. It’s definitely a pain, but I’m not going to worry about it, I’m not going to complain about it, I’m just going to do my job.”

  • Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post: This has been the Nets’ biggest problem the whole time, right from the start: They expect to be viewed as a team rich with accomplishment, deep in achievement, when the reality is that this is a franchise that has gone 10 years since winning a playoff series. Individually, of course, they have earned certain entitlements, some of them. Individually there are scores of splendid playoff memories to draw upon, whether we’re talking about the coach or the point guard or the duo that was supposed to signal a sea change of culture and professionalism. Collectively, this is what they’ve done: They’ve finished in sixth place in a historically weak Eastern Conference. They have won two playoff games together. And now, after this desultory 87-79 defeat to the Raptors, they have lost two games together, they have squandered home court together, and together they are damned fortunate they are not going back to Toronto down three games to one. “We came out flat, no energy,” guard Shaun Livingston said, “and that’s unacceptable for a playoff game.”