First Cup: Monday

  • Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman: Funny what two games can do to memory. Funny how you can forget what a ballteam is supposed to look like. What a ballteam does look like, when it has a loaded chamber. Easy go. Easy come. Serge Ibaka returned to the Thunder lineup Sunday night, and he didn’t come gingerly. Ibaka arrived with a roar. Four baskets, two blocked shots, two rebounds in the first five minutes. A state that had gone from nervous to hopeful at the news Ibaka could return from a calf injury went from hopeful to detonating as the Thunder rode the emotion of Ibaka’s recovery and the return of his talents to a 106-97 Game 3 victory over the Spurs that wasn’t nearly that close. And suddenly, the realization returned. Oh, yeah. When these guys have their team, they’re good. Really good. ... Ibaka brought energy to the fan base and hope to his teammates. But the tangible benefits he supplies is of paramount import. Ibaka is a difference-making ballplayer. “Serge is a great player,” Brooks said. “He’s been a big part of our success. We’ve won a lot of games and won a lot of series with him.” And looked lost in two games without Ibaka. Now he’s back. The Thunder has its team. Series on.

  • Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News: It was a modern day Willis Reed moment. Except Reed, who shook off a bad leg injury to hit a couple of token jumpers as the Knicks pounded the Lakers in Game 7 the 1970 Finals, only wished he could have played as well as Serge Ibaka did Sunday in Oklahoma City’s series-saving 106-97 victory in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. Boosted both emotionally and practically by the return of their two-way forward after a two-game absence, the Thunder survived Manu Ginobili’s first-half onslaught before tearing away down the stretch. Ginobili finished with 23 points and was the lone Spur who deserved to hold his head high after a sluggish performance in which they played with surprisingly little effort and executed poorly on both ends. “Maybe we thought we were OK or we’re going to win here playing so-so, but it’s not going to happen,” Ginobili said. “They showed us the reality, and hopefully we play much better in Game 4.” Either that, or they’ll likely be heading home tied 2-2, with the ghosts of their 2012 collapse against the Thunder gaining further traction in the back of their psyches.

  • Shandel Richardson of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: After James earlier in the day took the high road by saying he preferred to avoid any verbal sparring with Indiana Pacers guard Lance Stephenson, the younger player fired back during his media session Sunday afternoon. Stephenson called it a "sign of weakness" that James respondedto his taunts in Saturday's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals. "To me, I think it's a sign of weakness because he never used to say nothing to me," Stephenson said. "I always used to be the one who used to be the one that say, 'I'm going to get under you. I'm going to do something to get you mad' Now he's trying to do it to me. I feel like it's a weakness." Stephenson and James exchanged words early in the first quarter. At the time, the Pacers were holding a nine-point lead in a game they eventually lost. With 11 minutes 4 seconds remaining, Stephenson drew a charge on James. ... That was when James appeared to show frustration. After teammates helped Stephenson up, James closely followed him down the court. The players jawed the entire way. ... With everything in his favor, James refused to get caught up in the matter. "No. I don't need to get off with Stephenson," James said. "One thing I'm not going to do is give y'all a storyline with LeBron and Stephenson. I'm not going to do that. It's the Pacers versus the Heat."

  • Wheat Hotchkiss of Pacers.com: Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said at Sunday’s practice that he compared his team’s history with Miami to a little brother/big brother relationship at that morning’s film session. “The little brother spends his whole life getting beat up by the big brother, getting beaten in sporting events, one-on-one basketball and what not,” Vogel said. “And all them years of getting beat up builds them up to the point where they ultimately take on the big brother. That’s what we’re hoping to do.” When asked if he drew that comparison from personal experience, Vogel confirmed that his brother Justin, two years older than Frank, always got the upper hand in their childhood battles in New Jersey…until he didn’t. “I have an older brother and he used to kick my butt in one-on-one all the time,” Vogel said. The Pacers head coach then smiled as he added: “No longer, though.”

  • John Canzano of The Oregonian: During the Blazers-Rockets first-round playoff series, Houston call-up Troy Daniels hit 7-of-11 3-pointers in Games 3 and 4. After Game 4, Mo Williams exchanged words with Daniels, but refused to go into what he was thinking. In an appearance on NBATV, Williams dished about the psychological game he was playing with Daniels. "My thing was, let me get him some attention. Let me get the reporters in his locker room asking him questions about me that has nothing to do with the game. Now, all his homeboys gotta call him, all his friends, his mom, his sister, everybody... the thing is, it's all a tactic."

  • Andy Greder of the Pioneer Press: The Timberwolves' courtship of Dave Joerger as their next coach halted Sunday. Joerger, the Memphis Grizzlies coach from Staples, Minn., interviewed Thursday with Wolves president of basketball operations Flip Sanders and then Saturday with owner Glen Taylor. "It became apparent to us and to him that he was going to stay in Memphis," Saunders said Sunday. Saunders said possible compensation from the Wolves to the Grizzlies did not "get that far." Grizzlies owner Robert Pera confirmed that Joerger will not be making a Minnesota homecoming and will return to Memphis. "YES!" Pera tweeted in response to a question. "And contrary to reports, I never had a conversation with Minnesota (about compensation for Joerger). It never got that far."

  • Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune: With the news coming Sunday that Dave Joerger and the Grizzlies had patched up their relationship and he would remain the Memphis head coach, the new favorite for the Wolves coaching position has to be Sam Mitchell. Mitchell played with the Timberwolves for 10 seasons, including his final seven years with Flip Saunders as his head coach. Mitchell went on to become an assistant coach with Milwaukee from 2002 to ’04 before landing a head coaching job in Toronto, where in 2007 he was named NBA Coach of the Year. ... So look now for Saunders to target his former player and a well-respected voice in the NBA in Mitchell.