First Cup: Tuesday

  • Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News: Thanks to its third-quarter explosion, Portland led 85-68 heading to the fourth. By then, the Blazers' charter flight for San Antonio was already warming up at Portland International Airport. Between Games 3 and 4, and the Blazers contemplated the kind of series deficit no team has ever conquered, Batum asked the question: "Why not make history?" The Blazers are not there yet. They are not even close. But for one night, Portland reminded its faithful -- and the Spurs -- of the dizzying highs the Blazers could hit during what has been the club's deepest playoff run in 14 years. Portland players talked of playing for pride. They proved Monday that they are proud. The Blazers are still alive, having dodged one potential kill shot. The Spurs still have three more chances to put them down, and don't aim to let the series get that far.

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: As long as we're dwelling on the notion that nobody has ever rebounded from a 0-3 deficit to win a best-of-seven NBA playoff series, it's worth pointing out that some unlikely things have already happened in this little matchup. For example, ever seen a rattlesnake in a locker room? Portland beat San Antonio 103-92 in Game 4. It was like watching the corpse at a funeral sit straight up in the coffin, and look around. And so while we're comparing the Blazers probabilities to rebound and win this series to things like putting a man on Mars and curing the common cold, it's worth pointing out one little fact: This series is no longer 0-3. Portland now trails only 1-3. Prior to the 2014 NBA playoffs, teams trailing by that margin in a best-of-seven series won it 3.7 percent of the time, and I'm guessing that you'll take those odds right now and hug them like a teddy bear. It was business as usual, though, in the postgame for Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. He was grumpy. You know, like he is after San Antonio wins by 20.

  • Greg Cote of The Miami Herald: Sometimes a fan can’t help it. It isn’t that they forget what team they’re rooting for, they just get swept away by the moment. For a second they are cheering greatness, power that awes them or artistry that wows them or both — and the reaction is beyond their control.It was that way in the Brooklyn arena here Monday night during a sequence when LeBron James commanded the respect of even Nets fans. The Heat blocked a shot and Dwyane Wade began a fast break that ended with a thunderous tomahawk slam by LeBron that caused a spontaneous roar as loud as any in the building all night long. There were plenty of red-jerseyed Heat fans here, yes, but not that many. It was rather astounding to hear. That slam gave LeBron 22 points late in the first half. He wasn’t even half done. This was an epic night that saw James — the NBA’s greatest player at his full powers — score 49 points in one of the greatest individuals performances by any athlete in South Florida sports history. Miami would beat the Nets 102-96 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in this second-round playoff series heading back to Miami on Wednesday night, and it was all LeBron. Seldom has an athlete ever justified and perhaps exceeded a nickname so audacious. The King. Yes. In full reign.

  • Fred Kerber of the New York Post: Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Paul Pierce, who has gone through so many playoff wars with LeBron James, approached Nets coach Jason Kidd earlier in the series and asked to guard the Heat superstar in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Pierce knew James better than anyone, was more familiar with his tendencies than anyone. Knowing all that, he still wanted James? Monday night in Game 4, it didn’t go as Pierce planned. It went more under the heading of “Be Careful What You Wish For.” Real careful. James scored 49 points, tying his career-playoff high, and the Heat pushed the Nets to the brink with a 102-96 victory for a 3-1 series lead. “He’s tough. Especially with his strength and speed,” said Pierce, who encountered foul problems in the first quarter and again in the third.

  • Michael Lee of The Washington Post: The beard has almost become a mask, shielding Wall from being upfront about his struggles. His teammates have confronted him, offered words of encouragement to help him shatter the obstacles in front of him. Wall responds in monotone mumbles that don’t allow the conversations to linger. ... The Wizards were able to breeze through Chicago without Wall having huge scoring or assist games because Nene and Marcin Gortat were able to punish the Bulls for focusing so much on Wall. The Pacers’ defense also has neutralized Washington’s front line the past two games, forcing Wittman to lean more on Drew Gooden and placing even more pressure on Wall. Wall’s teammates still have faith that he can snap out of his funk and the best season of his career won’t end on Tuesday. “We got to keep pushing him,” Harrington said. “Him, single-handedly, could help us win this series. We just got to keep encouraging him, try to get him back playing the way he was playing."

  • Scott Agness of Pacers.com: The Pacers have been victorious in three straight games after dropping Game 1 at home. By this point, four games in, the teams are very familiar with each other and their respective play calls. For the Wizards, it’s about playing at their up-tempo pace and not allowing the Pacers to get back and get setup in their half-court defense. It’s about containing Paul George, winning the battle of the paint and getting to the free throw line. As for the Pacers, they cannot let the Wizards play at their pace. They have to keep their turnovers down, which prevents points in transition for the Wizards, and they have to clamp down on defense. This team was built on defense and rim protection, so that department must remain strong. Lastly, they cannot dig themselves a deep hole and expect to see their way out of it, as they did in Sunday’s win.

  • Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman: This season, the Thunder and Clippers were one and two in technical fouls in the NBA. Through four games, the mouthy and physical matchup hasn’t disappointed – with 15 combined technicals between the teams. There’s been a ton of complaining and a bunch of minor confrontations, but Thunder players said it hasn’t been any chippier than usual. “Nah, it’s a typical game,” Kevin Durant said. “Both teams physical, both teams pushing, grabbing, holding. It’s a part of the game, gotta play through it.” Westbrook said: “There's a lot of flopping going on, I can tell you that much. If that's what you call chippiness."

  • Vincent Bonsignore of the Los Angeles Daily News: With Doc Rivers on their sideline, the Clippers have a dramatic advantage over more than 90 percent of the teams they play. And that includes Oklahoma City and coach Scott Brooks. Brooks’ Thunder might be the better overall team, but in his one-on-one matchup against Rivers he comes up short. And with this series now a best of three, that edge could put the Clippers over the top. That’s the importance of Rivers, who masterfully guided the Clippers through the Donald Sterling fiasco and on Sunday coached circles around Brooks in the fourth quarter. And his team followed his lead. ... It wasn’t just Rivers’ decision to go small in the fourth quarter by pairing Darren Collison with Chris Paul in the backcourt and Jamal Crawford on the wing. Or the innovative decision to put the 6-foot-1 Paul on 6-foot-9 Thunder forward Kevin Durant. ... Durant was thrown off having to deal with Paul, and the Thunder never offered a countermove to make the Clippers pay for using such a small defender on their star player. And it was Rivers calling the shots.