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Elias Says: April 28, 2017

Leonard leads Spurs to victory over Grizzlies

Kawhi Leonard led the Spurs with 29 points in their series-clinching 103–96 victory over the Grizzlies in Memphis. Leonard averaged 31.2 points in the six-game series, becoming the fourth player since the Spurs joined the NBA in 1976–77 to average at least 30 points per game in a playoff series. George Gervin averaged at least 30 points per game in four series for San Antonio, topping out at 33.3 points per game in the opening round of the 1980 playoffs. David Robinson averaged exactly 30.0 points per game in two series for the Spurs – the 1995 semifinals and 1996 opening round. Tim Duncan was the most recent Spurs player to achieve that feat before Leonard, having averaged 32.3 points per game in the 2006 semifinals.

Don’t mess with Texas… when it comes to free throws in the playoffs

Leonard’s point total was certainly enhanced by his near-perfect marksmanship from the free-throw line. Leonard made 59 of 61 attempts from the charity stripe in the series, good for 96.7 percent. That’s tied for the best free-throw percentage in a playoff series among players who made at least 50 foul shots in that series. Mavericks stalwart Dirk Nowitzki also went 59-for-61 on free-throw attempts in the 2011 Western Conference Finals against the Thunder.

Parker helps Spurs close out series

Tony Parker stepped up for the Spurs as well in Game 6, finishing with 27 points after making 11 of 14 field-goal attempts. Parker’s field-goal percentage on Thursday was 78.6 percent, which is the highest of his 219 playoff games with San Antonio. Parker, who was 34 years 345 days as of Thursday, is the second-oldest player in the shot-clock era to score at least 25 points in a playoff game with a field-goal percentage of 78 percent or higher. In Game 3 of the 1972 NBA Finals, 35-year-old Wilt Chamberlain scored 26 points for the Lakers while shooting 90 percent from the field for the Lakers against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden.

Raptors close out series after fourth-quarter scare

The Raptors survived a late rally by the Bucks to claim victory in Game 6 and advance to the semifinals. Toronto led by as many as 25 points in the second half before falling behind Milwaukee in the fourth quarter, but a 9–0 Raptors’ run in the final minutes of the fourth put Toronto ahead for good. The Raptors are the 10th different team to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit in at least one playoff win this year, though they are the only squad who blew a lead of 20 or more points before doing so.

DeRozan piles up points in Raptors’ clincher

DeMar DeRozan led the Raptors with 32 points, marking the second time in the last two years that DeRozan helped Toronto wrap up a playoff series by scoring at least 30 points in the clinching win. DeRozan scored 30 points in Game 7 of the Raptors’ opening-round matchup with the Pacers last season. The only other Raptors player to score at least 30 points in a series-clinching victory was Kyle Lowry, who compiled 35 points in Game 7 of the Raptors’ win over the Heat in last year’s semifinals.

Crosby lights lamp twice in quick succession

Sidney Crosby scored the first two goals in the Penguins’ 3–2 victory at Washington in the opener of their series against the Capitals. Crosby’s goal 12 seconds after the opening faceoff of the second period gave Pittsburgh a 1–0 lead and he doubled their advantage with a goal 52 seconds later. That’s the second-fastest pair of playoff goals by one player in Penguins history, though it’s well short of the mere 11 seconds which Petr Nedved required to score twice in Game 1 of Pittsburgh’s first-round series against Washington in 1996. Crosby is the first NHL player to score two goals in the first 64 seconds of any period in a playoff game since 1993, when Vancouver’s Trevor Linden tallied twice in the first 59 seconds of the second period in Game 3 of a first-round series against Winnipeg.

Bonino nets game-winner for Penguins

Nick Bonino’s tiebreaking goal in the third period was the game-winning goal for the Penguins in their 3–2 victory in Game 1 of their series against the Capitals. Bonino has scored 14 goals in 60 playoff games in his NHL career and six of his postseason goals have been game-winners (43 percent). He has the second-highest percentage of game-winning goals in the playoffs among active NHL players who’ve scored at least 10 postseason goals, behind Jason Chimera (50 percent, 6 of 12).

Senators score late to take early advantage

Erik Karlsson’s bad-angle goal with 4:11 left to play in the third period snapped a 1–1 tie and earned the Senators a 2–1 win in Game 1 of their series against the Rangers. Only twice before had a Senators player scored a go-ahead goal in the final five minutes of regulation time in a playoff game. Ottawa’s first such goal was scored by Daniel Alfredsson in Game 5 of a second-round series against Toronto in 2002 (17:59, it was the winning goal in a 4–2 victory), and the second was produced by Bryan Smolinski in the opener of a second-round matchup against the Sabres in 2006 (18:47, though the Senators lost 7–6 in overtime).

Nationals treasure their time in Denver

The Nationals reached double-digits in runs for the third straight day, plating a season-high 16 runs in their blowout victory over the Rockies at Coors Field. Washington won three out of four games in Denver with the Nats outscoring the Rockies, 46–29. The only other time in franchise history that the Nationals/Expos scored more than 45 runs in a single series took place in 1974. The Expos hosted the Cubs for a six-game series from June 27 to July 1 that year, and the two teams split the six-game set despite Montreal outscoring Chicago, 47–21.

Productive series for Nats’ middle infield

Trea Turner had a huge week at Coors Field, going 11-for-21 at the plate with 11 RBIs and 10 runs scored in four games. The last player to post at least 10 hits, 10 RBIs, and 10 runs in a single series also did so in the mile-high air of Denver. In a five-game series versus the Expos in August 1999, Dante Bichette racked up 12 hits, 10 RBIs, and 10 runs scored for the Rockies. Since the 1920 season, when RBIs were first officially recorded, only one National League player prior to Turner totaled at least 10 hits, 10 RBIs, and 10 runs in a series of four or fewer games. In a four-game set for the Pirates at Philadelphia in August 1922, Pirates outfielder Reb Russell compiled 11 hits, 10 RBIs, and 11 runs scored against their intrastate rivals.

Turner’s fellow middle infielder Daniel Murphy also drove in 11 runs in the four-game series with the Rockies. Turner and Murphy are the first pair of teammates in the liveball era to each drive in 10 or more runs in the same series while batting as a middle infielder (i.e., at second base or shortstop).

Carpenter closes walkoff win in grand fashion

Matt Carpenter socked a game-ending grand slam in the 11th inning to earn a walkoff victory for the Cardinals over the Blue Jays Thursday afternoon. That was the first grand slam of Carpenter’s major-league career as well as the 11th walkoff grand slam for the Cardinals in franchise history. The most recent walkoff slam for St. Louis prior to Thursday was hit by Aaron Miles, who homered with the bases loaded to end a 9–5 win over the Padres on July 20, 2008.

Carpenter has been incredibly prolific with the bases loaded in his major-league career, producing 55 RBIs in 48 plate appearances with the bases full. That ratio of 1.15 RBIs per plate appearance with the bases loaded is the highest among active players with at least 40 plate appearances in that scenario. The only other active players who have at least 40 plate appearances with the bases loaded and have averaged at least 1.0 RBI-per-PA in that situation are Yoenis Cespedes (59 RBIs in 53 PA), Mike Trout (71 RBIs in 66 PA), and Josh Donaldson (72 RBIs in 72 PA).

Blue Jays falling fast

The Blue Jays sank to 6–16 on the season after losing a pair of games to the Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Thursday. There has been only one team in major-league history to qualify for the postseason after falling at least 10 games under .500 at some point before the end of April that year. The 1951 New York Giants recovered from a 2–12 start to win the National League pennant after defeating the Brooklyn Dodgers in a three-game playoff, capped by Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” The Giants lost that year’s World Series in six games to the Yankees.

Tanaka blanks Red Sox at Fenway

The Yankees defeated the Red Sox 3–0 at Fenway Park thanks to Masahiro Tanaka, who went the distance for New York while allowing just three hits. Tanaka became the first Yankee pitcher since Mike Mussina to throw a complete-game shutout in Boston; “Moose” also had a three-hit shutout at Fenway on Aug. 28, 2002.

Thursday’s game marked the second complete-game shutout for Tanaka, who also held the Mets scoreless over nine innings at Citi Field in 2014. The last pitcher who recorded his first two major-league shutouts with the Yankees, with neither taking place at Yankee Stadium, was Andy Pettitte, whose first two shutouts as a Yankee took place at Toronto in 1997 and at Detroit in 2000. Pettitte’s lone Yankee Stadium shutout was in 2002 versus the Mets.

Sale still racking up K’s in Boston

Chris Sale fought valiantly in a losing effort for the Red Sox, pitching into the ninth inning while striking out 10 batters. Sale has rung up 52 batters in his first five starts with Boston, marking the second-highest total of strikeouts by any pitcher in the modern era in his first five starts with a team. Randy Johnson set down 55 batters via strikes in his first five starts for the Diamondbacks in 1999.

Rough homestand for Mets

The Mets capped a dreadful 1–7 homestand by losing to the Braves on Thursday afternoon. New York did not hold a lead in any of its final six games at Citi Field, which included a loss to the Phillies, three losses versus the Nationals, and two losses against the Braves. The last time the Mets lost at least six straight games, all at home, without taking a lead in any of those contests was in July 2003. New York went 1–6 in its final homestand before the All-Star break in 2003, losing three to the Braves and three to the Phillies without holding a lead in any of those games, before snapping that skid with a walkoff win over Philadelphia.

R.A. = RBI Ace?

R.A. Dickey earned the win in his first start at Citi Field since his incredible 2012 season with the Mets in which he earned the NL Cy Young award. Dickey allowed three runs (two earned) in five innings and helped his own cause at the plate, driving in a run with a RBI-groundout in the second inning. The 42-year-old Dickey has produced four RBIs in his four games this season. No other pitcher age 40 or older in the liveball era – that is, since 1920 – produced as many as four RBIs in his first four games of a season. Prior to Dickey, the oldest pitcher to start his season in that fashion was Burleigh Grimes, who was 39 years old in 1933 when he drove in four runs in his first three games of the season for the Cubs.

Another clutch homer by Lindor

Francisco Lindor hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh inning, giving the Indians a lead they would not relinquish against the Astros. That’s the second late-innings go-ahead home run for Lindor this season; he hit a lead-asuming grand slam off Rangers reliever Sam Dyson in the ninth inning on April 5. In the last 20 seasons (1998–2017), the only other Indians player to strike multiple go-ahead home runs in the seventh inning or later by the end of April was Mark Reynolds, who had two homers of that kind for Cleveland in April 2013.

Hellickson looking good for Phillies

Jeremy Hellickson allowed one run over six innings for the Phillies against the Marlins, earning the win to improve to 4–0 on the season. Hellickson has enjoyed success this year despite his modest strikeout numbers; he has struck out just 11 batters over 30 innings in his five starts this season, a total which includes his lone strikeout from Thursday. The last pitcher before Hellickson to win at least four of his first five starts of a season with fewer than a dozen strikeouts over that span was Derek Lowe, who went 4–1 in April 2012 for the Indians with just nine strikeouts in five starts.

Rookie beats K-Rod in ninth

Mariners rookie Ben Gamel singled off Francisco Rodriguez in the ninth inning to drive in the go-ahead run for Seattle in its 2–1 win over the Tigers. Since joining the Tigers in 2016, Rodriguez had held rookie batters to a .138 batting average (4 hits in 29 at-bats) prior to Thursday. The only other rookie with a go-ahead RBI against Rodriguez since the start of last season was Max Kepler, who homered versus “K-Rod” in the ninth inning on July 20, 2016 for the Twins at Detroit.

Dodgers prevail in extras

The Dodgers batted around the order in the top of the 10th inning, plating four runs with nothing but singles, walks, and a sacrifice fly in their victory over the Giants on Thursday. That’s the most runs scored by Los Angeles in an inning this season without the benefit of an extra-base hit. The Dodgers had two innings of that kind last season, scoring five runs with no doubles, triples, or homers in the first inning at San Francisco on April 10, and plating four runs with no extra-base hits in the second inning versus Colorado on September 24.

Texas A&M’s Garrett goes first to Browns

The Browns selected defensive end Myles Garrett with the first pick of the 2017 NFL Draft. Garrett is the first number one pick ever drafted from Texas A&M; there had been five Aggies who were drafted second overall, most recently Von Miller in 2011 and Luke Joeckel in 2013. No other school had as many as five players selected within the top two picks of the NFL Draft without a single numero uno. With Texas A&M off the list, the current leaders for “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” with regards to the number one selection in the NFL Draft are Baylor and North Carolina, who have each produced four number-two picks and no number ones.

49ers tap familiar source for first pick

With his first pick as general manager of the 49ers, John Lynch snagged a player from his alma mater, taking defensive end Solomon Thomas from Stanford third overall. That marks the second straight year that San Francisco chose a player from Stanford in the first round, after having done so with Joshua Garnett in 2016. In all, the 49ers have taken five Stanford players in the first round of the NFL Draft – John Brodie (1957), Gene Washington (1969), Kwame Harris (2003), Garnett (2016), and Thomas (2017). That’s the highest total of Cardinal first-round picks for any team in NFL history.

Jets remain defensive-minded

The Jets stayed true to recent form, drafting LSU safety Jamal Adams with the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft. The Jets have used nine straight first-round picks on defensive players dating back to 2010. That’s the longest streak for any team since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970. The Jets had been tied with the Cowboys, who went defense with eight straight first-round picks from 1998 to 2007.

Clemson’s playmakers go early

Clemson’s Mike Williams and DeShaun Watson were chosen in the first half of round one, with

wide receiver Williams going seventh to the Chargers and quarterback Watson going 12th to the Texans. Williams and Watson are the first quarterback/wide-receiver duo from the same school to be selected within the top 12 picks of a draft in the common era. The only other QB/WR pair from the same school to be selected within the top 20 picks of a draft were Baylor’s Robert Griffin III (second overall in 2012) and Kendall Wright (20th in 2012).

No time for O-line on Day 1

There were no offensive linemen picked on Thursday night until Denver chose Garett Bolles 20th overall. It is the first time in the 51-year history of the common draft that an offensive lineman was not chosen in the first 15 selections of round one.