First Cup: Wednesday

  • Bob Kravitz of The Indianapolis Star: Give Bird and his front office credit. Give Frank Vogel, who needs to have the third year of his contract guaranteed (and now) credit. And give these players credit for turning themselves into the type of team -- emphasis on team -- that this city and region can embrace without hesitation. With a bit more than a minute left in the Pacers' 105-87 series-clincher over the Orlando Magic, the chant went up from Area 55: "Beat the Heat! Beat the Heat!'' Then the rest of the crowd joined in. "There have been a lot of nights when it's been kind of silent in here,'' Roy Hibbert said with a smile. "But not tonight. Not this series. I think we're giving fans something to be proud of. We didn't do this the easy way. It took time. But Larry Bird and (general manager) David Morway drafted well. We got D(avid) West. We got George Hill, Leandro (Barbosa) and Lou (Amundson) for almost nothing. We didn't do this by signing a couple of superstars.'' ... What's next? The Pacers are taking their talents to South Beach.

  • Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: Thank you, Indiana Pacers. Thank you for what you did Tuesday night. Thank you for beating the Magic 105-87 and doing what should have been done long ago. Thank you for putting an end to the suffering of Orlando players, coaches and fans. Thank you for closing the book on this distressing, depressing season. It is over. Finally. Convincingly. Mercifully. Now we wait … wait to see what happens with Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy, who said after the game he wants to come back but has no idea if Magic management wants him back. Judging by his body language, I believe Van Gundy has a pretty good idea he will be sacrificed as the Magic desperately try to convince Dwight Howard to sign a long-term extension. ... If Van Gundy were being completely candid, he would admit that there is a part of him that will be ecstatic if he is fired and his Magic tenure is over. He likely feels much like Magic fans feel about this season. Seriously, has there ever been a playoff team where its fans seemed more relieved than bereaved that the season was over? Let's face it, the Magic had no chance in this series — none. The Pacers had the advantage at virtually every position. And that is a clear indictment of a roster that general manager Otis Smith has put together. Even with Dwight, the Magic would have been ousted in the first round by the Pacers, much like they were by the Hawks last year. ... Thank you, Indiana Pacers, for the incredibly humane gesture Tuesday night. Thank you for putting the Magic out of their misery. But the saddest part of all is this. The season may be over, but another Dwightmare is just beginning.

  • Jeff Schultz of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution: But hey, the Hawks won 87-86. They live to play another game. That’s probably more than most saw coming after self-immolation two days earlier in Boston. The Celtics still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2. They certainly will befavored to close this out Thursday night. But speculate at your own risk. As for Drew’s lineup decisions, try this: Horford, back from a torn pectoral, finished with a team-high 19 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots. Williams made three of six three-point attempts — the rest of the team was 4-for-10. On a night when Smith and Joe Johnson started dreadfully but finished strong, Horford was the difference. Horford was expected to play 15 to 20 minutes. He ended up playing over 41. “I didn’t want to bring him back that early in the fourth, but it was a close game and you could feel the momentum shifting,” Drew said. “He was a superman for us down the stretch.” So was this: After making only 4 of 16 shots to open the game and shooting 35.7 percent in the first half, the Hawks shots 61.3 percent in the second half.

  • Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: Rajon Rondo has had better games than last night. You need only go back two nights to find one. But he actually came within a breath of single-handedly winning Game 5 at Philips Arena. In the final seconds, however, Rondo wasn’t able to pull the Celtics [team stats]’ keister from the fire one last time, and the lasting image of this one will be of the point guard coming up empty. The Hawks inbounded the ball with an 87-86 lead and just 10.9 seconds on the clock, and Rondo intercepted Josh Smith’s pass for Joe Johnson at 9.9. But with no timeouts left, he couldn’t find another moment of magic, or even another shot for the Celtics. Rondo dribbled up the left sideline, guarded by his friend Smith. Kevin Garnett set a pick, and the 6-foot-10 Al Horford switched onto him. Rondo was caught in the corner, and the clock ran out as he tried to get the ball back out to Garnett. Too nothing, too late. “I felt awful that the game ended the way it ended, because I thought Rondo willed us back into the game,” said Doc Rivers, whose team will try again to close out the Hawks in Game 6 tomorrow night at the Garden. “He really did at the end of the third quarter in that little stretch. It kind of gave us life again.” Had the Celtics been able to come up with a final bucket — or had they made one fewer silly mistake earlier — the focus today would have been on Rondo’s nine-second barrage late in the third quarter, nine seconds that nearly clinched the series.

  • Mark Kiszla of The Denver Post: During a 102-99 victory that saved Denver from NBA playoff elimination, the great Nuggets' experiment in team basketball worked to perfection. Kobe Bryant scored 43 for the Lakers, but Denver stole the show. ... Patience is a virtue in Ujiri's mind. But there's something even a smart Nuggets executive probably can't fully appreciate after fewer than two full years on the job. The fatigue and frustration of the Denver ticket-buying public extends back more than a decade, before the time when first-round playoff exits became the norm to a time when Denver was laughably inept as an NBA franchise. As the Nuggets built a 15-point lead early in the fourth quarter, it wasn't funny to comedian Larry David and the beautiful people in the Staples Center who came out looking for a celebration but had to curb their enthusiasm. The crowd booed the home team. The Lakers responded with a furious rally. Bryant and Ramon Sessions both missed field-goal attempts from three-point range that could have tied the score in the final seconds. "Thank God," said Karl, appreciative for the divine intervention. Without superstars on the court, the Nuggets will take help anywhere they can get it.

  • Jill Painter of the Los Angeles Daily News: Mike Brown was using his big smile to denounce a popular theory that's going around. It seems ridiculous, the prospect of the Lakers throwing Game 5 on Tuesday to push the series to six games so Metta World Peace could play in Game 1 against Oklahoma City in Western Conference playoffs. Brown's reaction? A smile, followed by laughing. "I thought it was funny," Brown said before Tuesday's game. Actually, Brown would rather get through the series quickly, even though that would mean Metta World Peace has to sit out the first game - serving the final of the seven-game suspension - of the next series. The Thunder is resting after their sweep over Dallas, and the San Antonio Spurs are waiting following their sweep over Utah. More rest would be beneficial for Kobe Bryant, who surely would have fresher legs after a five-game series than seven.

  • Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times: The United Center was all abuzz Tuesday night as the weary Bulls fought to remain among the living. It shouldn’t have been easy to watch for anyone, but when the Fan-O-Meter starts encouraging the crowd, Omer Asik dunks and the 76ers can’t hit an open shot on a rim lowered to 5 feet, people have a hard time helping themselves. They cheer. Wildly. Others are still trying to decide between denial and anger in the Derrick Rose grieving process. It’s why watching the Bulls beat the 76ers 77-69 brought on shrugs among those of us who like their basketball to be, you know, good. Yes, there will be a Game 6 in Philadelphia on Thursday and, yes, the 76ers might be feeling just a tad nervous with their 3-2 series lead. But is it asking too much for there to be one high-level basketball game in this playoff series, with two teams showing skill and will? If you can get high off the fumes of any kind of Bulls victory, even one as offensive as Tuesday’s, bless you. You’re a better person than I am. You see hope. I see a team that still has fight, doesn’t have much to fight for and might want to think about taking up pacifism. ‘‘Nobody wants to get eliminated at home,’’ forward Taj Gibson said of the Bulls’ resolve.

  • Bob Ford of The Philadelphia Inquirer: Perhaps it was just the last gasp of a team that didn't want to leave the season with a loss on its home floor. Tuesday night's 77-69 win by the Chicago Bulls to avoid elimination by the 76ers could have been nothing more than that. The Sixers better hope so, and they better hope their offense returns from the land of the missing when the series continues Thursday in the Wells Fargo Center. It wasn't as if the Bulls were terrific in narrowing the Sixers' lead to three games to two. They were the same crippled team that lost three straight to the Sixers to get themselves into this predicament. But the Sixers were just awful. They took bad shots, didn't take care of the ball and couldn't match the Bulls' muscle in what became a very physical contest. The only question now is whether the game was a harbinger or merely the final act of defiance by a team that would prefer to end its injury-induced misery somewhere else. Whichever is the case, the series has changed. We find out Thursday night how much.