First Cup: Monday

  • Mark Montieth of Pacers.com: If the fans and media members who speak loudest had their way, Frank Vogel would have been fired by now, Roy Hibbert would have been benched, and just about every reserve except Chris Copeland would have been banished from the bench. We're not sure who would be left to suit up for the Pacers, but fortunately for them, cooler heads—particularly Vogel's—have prevailed. Now they have a 3-1 lead in their second-round playoff series with Washington, an advantage only eight teams in 217 seven-game series in NBA history have managed to fumble. Sunday's 95-92 victory at the Verizon Center means the Wizards will have to win three consecutive games from the Pacers, two of them at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, to win the series. That seems an unlikely occurrence, but then this series has been full of such things. Who could have predicted. ... Breaking news: Vogel almost certainly will stick with the same substitution pattern in Game 5 on Tuesday, for the same reason he kept rolling out Hibbert for the opening tip when Hibbert seemed hopelessly lost. It's what he does, because he knows constant lineup changes and knee-jerk substitution patterns disrupt chemistry and confidence.

  • J. Michael of CSN Washington: Everything went the right way for the Wizards. The bench had its best game of the playoffs, they had a 19-point lead and control with a chance to even this semifinal series with the Indiana Pacers but they still didn't have the best player on the court at Verizon Center on Sunday. Paul George scored 28 of his playoff career-high 39 points in the second half, finishing with 7 of 10 three-pointers, and Roy Hibbert came alive after a listless first half for a 95-92 victory to take a 3-1 series lead. The Pacers have won both road games and return home for a possible close-out Game 5 in Indianapolis on Tuesday. After not having an impact as a unit for much of the playoffs, reserves Al Harrington, Drew Gooden and Andre Miller -- the "AARP group" -- set up the Wizards with a double-digit lead in the first half. The Wizards' starters, however, squandered it. The reserves returned to push the lead back to 85-76 midway through the fourth quarter but the Wizards couldn't convert down the stretch.

  • Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times: Grit. Resolve. Determination. Mental fortitude. When the Clippers' season edged ever so close to the brink, it took every ounce of those attributes, and more, to escape with a thrilling 101-99 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 4 of their NBA playoff series Sunday at Staples Center. The Clippers had to overcome their largest deficit of the season after they fell into a 22-point hole in the first quarter. They had to overcome a 16-point deficit in the fourth quarter and a potential game-winning three-point attempt by Russell Westbrook that rimmed out in the final second. They had to use a small lineup of 6-foot Chris Paul, 6-foot Darren Collison, 6-5 Jamal Crawford, 6-8 Danny Granger and 6-10 Blake Griffin in the fourth quarter to overcome the Thunder and deadlock the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinals at two games apiece. Now it's a best-of-three series. "They're seething right now," Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said about the Thunder. "They had an opportunity to go up 3-1 and now it's an even series. We were almost on the mat and we got back off of it. We're back up and now we're all even."

  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: So with nothing else to lose, Doc Rivers dialed up the pesky Chris Paul as a last-ditch effort to try and contain the world’s best scorer. It was a “desperate” move, as Rivers called it, sticking a 6-foot-nothing point guard on a 6-foot-11 sharpshooter. But it’s a decision that, for now, has turned this series from virtually over to a virtual toss-up, serving as a key factor in the Clippers’ wild comeback and 101-99 win over the Thunder on Sunday afternoon. Series suddenly tied 2-2. Early in the fourth quarter, Paul took over the unenviable assignment. L.A. was down 16 and in desperate need of a spark. Paul’s bulldog mentality and Rivers’ change of scheme gave it to them. With Durant towering over Paul, OKC coach Scott Brooks and the Thunder continually tried to exploit the height mismatch in the mid-post. They sent him down to that right elbow, in the same spot where Durant had hit a dagger fadeaway over Paul two nights before. But this time, Paul played him with a bit more of a frantic, disruptive style. And as he did so, Rivers dialed up a variety of double-teams from different angles. Durant struggled to adjust to the new defender and swarming scheme. He turned it over three times in the fourth, including a crucial mistake with three minutes left, and the Thunder offense stalled.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: LeBron James has been careful to avoid the appearance of attempting to force the hand of coach Erik Spoelstra over these past four seasons. But he reiterated again Sunday his desire to see more of James Jones in the Miami Heat's rotation. Jones was not summoned in Saturday's 104-90 Game 3 loss to the Brooklyn Nets in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals series until the Heat were down 85-67 with 8:44 to play. He converted all three of his 3-point attempts, his only shots of the game, in playing to the finish of the loss that dropped the Heat to a 2-1 series lead. "It's the space that he provides, and his ability to shoot the ball," James said of continuing to push for more of the veteran forward. "You can't do both when he's out on the floor: You can't help on my drive and try to contest the threes on him. You have to keep an eye on him. We have to find some minutes for him. I don't see why he shouldn't play. He's huge for us when he's in the lineup. He's big time." For the most part, Spoelstra has gone with Ray Allen as the Heat's primary 3-point specialist off the bench, recently giving consistent minutes to forward Rashard Lewis, another 3-point specialist, as well.

  • Tim Bontemps of the New York Post: After Paul Pierce watched the biggest rival of his Hall of Fame career, LeBron James, slice and dice his way through the Nets’ defense in Game 1, Pierce went to Nets coach Jason Kidd before Game 2 with a request. “I went to Kidd in Game 2 and said, ‘I want that [defensive] assignment,’ Pierce said, referring to guarding James himself, after Sunday’s practice. Until that point, Pierce had been guarding Shane Battier instead. ... Since Game 1, the Nets have slowly pushed James away from the basket and turned him into more of a jump shooter. After going 5-for-9 at the rim in Game 1, James went 6-for-7 in Game 2 and 4-for-4 in Game 3 — including taking just one shot in close after the end of the first quarter. And while there is no “right” way to try and slow down James, most teams would prefer he do what he did for most of Game 3 against the Nets: become a jump shooter.

  • Buck Harvey of the San Antonio Express-News: The more things change, the more he does not. The years keep passing, and Tim Duncan keeps passing others. Saturday night, he moved ahead of Karl Malone and became the fifth-highest scorer in NBA playoff history. As long ago as 1999, however, Duncan was already moving on Malone. Malone was the MVP that season, with Duncan finishing third in the voting. Many thought Duncan deserved the award then and certainly deserved to finish higher than the one who came in second place, Alonzo Mourning. But at the time, Duncan shrugged. Malone and Mourning had already been eliminated in the postseason by the time the MVP voting came out. Duncan was close to his first NBA Finals. “I'd rather be right here right now, I'll tell you that,” Duncan said during the 1999 Western Conference finals against Portland. “I'm very happy with the position that I'm in right now.” Years later, the same continues. While Malone stars in commercials, posing with cheeseburgers and having some fun with his ring-less life, Duncan has another chance at his fifth title. But if Duncan hasn't changed, everything around him has. He's the only Spur or Blazer left from 1999, and the Portland franchise reflects how much has happened since. The Blazers are now trying to scheme Duncan with their eighth coach.

  • Dwight Jaynes of CSNNW.com: The San Antonio Spurs have demolished the Portland Trail Blazers in three consecutive games. But make no mistake, this San Antonio team is all about one man: Gregg Popovich. This is one of the best "teams" I can remember watching in my more than 30 years covering the NBA. They positively grind you down with their offensive execution, unselfishly passing up good shots so their teammates can get better ones. Watch the little things with them -- how many times they receive perfect passes from teammates then immediately get into the classic basketball "triple-threat" position of being ready to shoot, dribble or pass instantly. There are ball fakes constantly, picks all over the floor, flashes to the basket -- it's a template for both modern and traditional NBA offense. Nobody -- NOBODY -- is doing it better anywhere in basketball than San Antonio has done it these past three games against Portland. The Trail Blazers have run into a juggernaut, a buzzsaw -- and are powerless to do anything about it. And I don't care if you're a Trail Blazer fan or not, you have to just tip your cap in admiration.