First Cup: Friday

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: The Thunder finally wore down the Los Angeles Clippers, ending this prize fight with a 104-98 victory Thursday night to win a rousing Western Conference semifinal. The Thunder did it with an increasingly-hot Kevin Durant, and a strange lineup that included 40 minutes out of Steven Adams, and resiliency that will serve OKC well next week against the stately San Antonio Spurs. For the third time in four years, the Thunder is in the Western Conference finals, and this was the hardest journey yet. Seven mosh pit games against Memphis, then six against the athletic and tough Clippers. But the Thunder matched LA in both. Especially Thursday night. ... The Thunder just wore down the Clippers. Durant still was great in the fourth quarter. And Westbrook was just as ferocious as ever. The Clippers failed to match those young legs and roaring hearts. And now it’s on to the Spurs, who will provide yet another rattlesnake opponent. But the Thunder is well-prepared for such a series.

  • Dan Woike of The Orange County Register: A season with broken bones, separated shoulders, swollen ankles, bad backs and sore hamstrings was the cost to get here. A postseason full of unimaginable drama, an owner recorded saying racist things, his wife digging in her heels for a legal fight and a franchise with an uncertain future left a team caught right in the middle. They hoped it would all be worth it, with all the clutter and the pain serving as mile markers on a memorable journey. Instead, it all ended Thursday, with the Clippers missing shot after shot as the Thunder advanced to the Western Conference Finals, closing out the Clippers, 104-98, in Game 6 at Staples Center. “We’re a team in process,” Coach Doc Rivers said. “I believe we were good enough to win this year. Oklahoma City told us we were not. So, we have more to do.” The Clippers have never advanced past the conference semifinals.

  • Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times: Chris Paul's latest playoff run will be remembered as one painful slap to the forehead, two plays encapsulating another spring that turned into Sob City. The criticism will start anew after the Clippers playmaker delivered more heartache during his team's season-ending 104-98 loss to Oklahoma City in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals Thursday night at Staples Center. Paul finished with 25 points and 11 assists but will be recalled mostly for the offensive foul with 3 minutes 35 seconds left that probably sealed the Clippers' fate. With the crowd buzzing and the Clippers in the midst of one more crazy comeback, Paul drove toward the basket and passed to DeAndre Jordan for a dunk that appeared to shave the Clippers' deficit to five points. The crowd went crazy. The whistle blew. The basket didn't count. Paul had picked up a foul for hitting Collison in the midsection with a forearm, and you could almost feel the old negativity bubbling up that Paul isn't a big-game player, that the deeper his team goes into the playoffs, the more he falters. “It's crazy that it's over,” a somber Paul said afterward. He has not advanced to the conference finals in nine NBA seasons. He has made the conference semifinals three times.

  • Mark Montieth of Pacers.com: Do we all understand now? Have we finally figured out the Pacers? They are not perplexing or unpredictable, as so many claim. They are as consistent as a sunrise. Or a sunset, depending on the situation. Times are good? They relax too much. Times are tough? They bear down enough. That all was summarized in Thursday's 93-80 win at Washington, which sent them to the Eastern Conference Finals to face Miami for a third straight postseason. It was a game that summarized their series against the Wizards, and their season, too. Prosperity weakens, danger strengthens. It's human nature, and the Pacers are as human as a team can be. They ran out to a comfortable lead in their quest for the top seed in the Eastern Conference during the regular season, and then let up and had to scramble at the finish line to retain it. So they let up when they opened their first-round series against Atlanta and had to scramble from behind to win it. So they let up again when they opened their second-round series against Washington, and had to scramble to take a 3-1 lead. So, of course they let up again and were embarrassed in a Game 5, which, of course, set them up nicely for Thursday's series-clincher on the road. They're now 5-0 following losses in the postseason, and have won crucial Game 6s on the road in each series. That qualifies as a frightening omen for Game 1 against Miami on Sunday, but that's an issue for another day.

  • John Reid of The Washington Post: Let’s be clear: Losing to the Pacers did not ruin the Wizards’ season. The Wizards pushed the East’s No. 1 seed in an all-they-could-handle battle. They showed they’re capable of playing with the conference’s best. An organization that had been wandering in the desert for years no longer is lost. In one impressive season, the Wizards substantially improved their image throughout the league. “A lot of teams respect us now,” Wall said. “We definitely made Indiana earn it. And [this series gave] us a lot experience to know what it takes to win and compete in close-out games and get to the next level.” That’s what those who remained until the end late Thursday night seemed to understand. It was a message they conveyed in a standing ovation. Clearly, the Wizards have changed. And that’s definitely a welcome surprise.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: It marks the second time in three seasons the two teams will face off for the right to represent the West in the Finals. The Spurs led the 2012 series 2-0 before the Thunder stormed back to win four straight. The two battled throughout this season for the best record in the conference, with the Spurs finishing three games ahead of Oklahoma City at 62-20 despite losing all four meetings. Including their reverse sweep in the 2012 playoffs, the Thunder have won 10 of the past 12 meetings.Both teams finished in the top 10 in offensive and defensive efficiency, but they couldn’t be any more different structurally. While the Spurs are built on depth and the league’s highest-scoring bench, Oklahoma City get roughly half their points from Kevin Durant (32 per game) and Russell Westbrook (21.8). Durant won his first MVP award after winning the scoring title for the fourth time in five seasons. With 39 points in Thursday’s clincher, Durant now has the third-best scoring average in postseason history at 31.5 per game. ... With No. 1 Miami facing No. 2 Indiana in the Eastern finals, this is the first postseason since 2005 that the top two seeds in both conferences have made the NBA’s final four. The champion that season? The Spurs, 4-3 victors over Detroit in the Finals.

  • Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: With his team off Thursday, coach Erik Spoelstra had the opportunity to calibrate in advance of an expected move back toward a bigger, bulkier rotation, with beefier opposition looming. "We'll get to that point when we get there," he said. "I haven't given any thought right now. But based on our history, whatever move is necessary, I won't hesitate." Thursday allowed the Heat to savor some history, having now won 10 consecutive playoff rounds since falling to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 NBA Finals, becoming just the fifth franchise to string together as many series successes, with the NBA record 13 consecutive series won by the Los Angeles Lakers from 2000 to 2003. For guard Ray Allen, it is his second trip to the East finals with the Heat, having done it three times with the Celtics. He said the Heat's enduring success in reaching this level should not be taken for granted. "It is an incredible accomplishment," he said.