Elias Says: October 21, 2017

Verlander at his best with Astros facing elimination

The Astros were in dire straits on Friday, one loss away from a ticket home, with a track record that didn’t exactly inspire optimism (entering Friday’s game, Houston had been 0–5 in postseason games at home when facing elimination). Fans at Minute Maid Park hoped that Justin Verlander could snap that streak and extend their season at least one more day. And Verlander did just that, scattering five hits over seven scoreless innings to lead the Astros to victory over the Yankees in Game 6 and force a winner-take-all seventh game on Saturday night.

Including Friday’s scoreless performance, Verlander has not allowed a run in his last 24 innings in which his team was facing elimination in the postseason, a streak that dates back to 2012. Verlander matched the longest such scoreless innings streak in postseason history. Madison Bumgarner also threw 24 scoreless innings in postseason games in which the Giants were one loss away from elimination, a streak that began with San Francisco’s Wild Card win in 2014 and came to an end in the 2016 Division Series.

To say that Verlander has been terrific for the Astros may be an understatement at this point. The former MVP recorded the win in all five of his starts for Houston in the regular season and all four of his appearances in the postseason, including a relief outing on three days rest at Fenway Park to finish off the Red Sox in the Division Series. Verlander is the only pitcher in major-league history to record a win in each of his first four regular season appearances as well as his first four postseason appearances for a team.

Altuve powers up to help Astros force Game 7

Jose Altuve drove in three of the Astros’ seven runs on Friday, including a solo home run against David Robertson to open the floodgates in the eighth inning. Altuve’s bomb was the 10th home run of the postseason by a second baseman, matching the second-highest total in any postseason in MLB history. The record of 14, including seven by Daniel Murphy, was set in 2015. Altuve’s blast was also the 31st homer hit by a second baseman over the last three postseasons. Remarkably, that total equals the total of postseason home runs hit by first basemen since 2015, tying for the most by players at any position over that span.

Once more unto the breach for the Yankees

Saturday’s Game 7 will be do or die once more for the Yankees, who have already won two winner-take-all games in this year’s postseason, defeating the Twins in the Wild Card game and ousting the Indians in the Division Series. Only one other team has played as many as three winner-take-all games in one postseason. In 2012, the Cardinals defeated the Braves to win the NL’s Wild Card matchup, stunned the Nationals in Game 5 of the Division Series, then made it to Game 7 of the NLCS before succumbing to Matt Cain and the Giants.

Dad was right

All aboard the Lonzo Ball hype train! The Lakers rookie displayed the full range of his talents on Friday night, scoring 29 points, grabbing 11 rebounds, and distributing nine assists to help the Lakers earn their first win of the season, a 132–130 decision over the Suns. No player as young as Ball, who is a week shy of his 20th birthday, had ever reached all three of those plateaus in a game. LeBron James was 20 years old when he posted 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in Philadelphia in November 2005, making him the only other player under age 21 with such a game.

Ball’s 29 points were the most for a Lakers player in his first road game in the NBA, surpassing Magic Johnson who scored 26 points on Oct. 12, 1979 at San Diego, where the Clippers first resided before heading up I-5 to Los Angeles in 1984.

Simmons in good company after two games

Ben Simmons posted another strong statline in the 76ers’ loss to the Celtics on Friday, finishing with 11 points, 11 rebounds, and a team-high five assists. Simmons has 29 points, 21 rebounds, and 10 assists through his first two NBA games. No other active player had at least 20 points, 20 rebounds, and 10 assists in his first two games in the league entering this season (Lonzo Ball joined Simmons in the 20–20–10 club later on Friday night). Five players prior to Simmons and Ball opened their NBA careers in that fashion, and all five are Hall-of-Famers: Maurice Stokes, Elgin Baylor, Oscar Robertson, Connie Hawkins, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

LeBron helps Cavs put down Bucks

LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 24 points in Cleveland’s 116–97 victory over the Bucks. James has averaged 28.2 points per game against the Bucks in his career, tied with Allen Iverson for the second-highest scoring average versus Milwaukee among players with at least 10 games against the Bucks. Michael Jordan scored 32.3 points per game against the Bucks to top the list.

Antetokounmpo does it all for Milwaukee

As usual, Giannis Antetokounmpo was the main source of production for the Bucks on Friday, leading the team with 34 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, and three steals (he also tied for the team-lead with one blocked shot). The “Greek Freak” has led Milwaukee (or tied for the team-lead) in all five of those categories in seven games in his five NBA seasons. No other Bucks player has achieved that feat in a game more than three times.

Fox says assists for all

De’Aaron Fox led the Kings with 10 assists in Sacramento’s 93–88 victory over the Mavericks. The 19-year-old Fox became the first teenager in the history of the Kings franchise, a team that dates back to the inaugural season of the NBA, to distribute as many as 10 assists in a game. Tyreke Evans was the previous-youngest before Fox; Evans produced seven games with 10 or more assists for Sacramento as a 20-year-old in the 2009–10 campaign.

Fox became the second rookie in this young season to produce a 10-assist game; Dennis Smith, Jr. had 10 assists for the Mavericks in his first NBA game on Wednesday. There was only one other season in which multiple players recorded at least 10 assists in a game within their first two games in the NBA. Maurice Cheeks and Phil Ford started their careers in that fashion in the 1978–79 campaign. Cheeks reached double-digits in assists in each of his first two games with the 76ers, while Ford, like Fox, did so in his second game with the Kings.

Portland blazing a trail less traveled

The Trail Blazers defeated the Pacers, 114–96, to improve to 2–0 for the first time in six years. Portland has not been outscored in a quarter so far this season, though Indiana managed a draw in the fourth quarter on Friday. The Blazers became just the eighth team in the shot-clock era – since 1954–55 – to avoid being outscored in a quarter in either of its first two games of a season. Portland accomplished this feat in two other seasons: 1973–74 and 1984–85. The last squad with such a two-game streak was the 2012–13 Bulls. None of the previous seven teams to do it extended their streaks to a third game.

No hole is too deep for Hornets

The Hornets overcame an early 20-point deficit in their 109–91 victory over the Hawks. Only one other team in the last 18 seasons (2000–01 to date) won a game by at least 18 points after overcoming a deficit of 20 or more. On Nov. 1, 2015, the Heat defeated the Rockets by 20 points despite Houston holding a 21-point team in the early third quarter. The Rockets, who have lived by the three the last few seasons, died by the three in that game, at one point missing 15 consecutive attempts from behind the arc.

Howard making a strong first impression in Charlotte

Dwight Howard scored 20 points and grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds, increasing his two-game totals with the Hornets to 30 points and 30 rebounds. Howard also reached both of those levels in his first two games with the Rockets, producing 30 points and 42 rebounds in his first two contests for Houston in 2013. The only other active player to total at least 30 points and 30 rebounds in his first two games for a new team was Kevin Love, who accumulated 35 points and 30 rebounds in his first two games for the Cavaliers.

Prior to Howard, no Hornets player had ever secured as many as 30 rebounds in his first two games with the team. Derrick Coleman had the previous high for the team, corralling 28 rebounds through two games in February 1999.

Wall strong as bricks for Wizards

John Wall’s 26 points and 10 assists helped the Wizards outlast the Pistons, 115–113. Friday’s game marked the 97th time that Wall produced at least 20 points and 10 assists in a game, breaking a tie with James Harden for fourth-most among active players. The top three on that list are Chris Paul (195), LeBron James (153), and Russell Westbrook (145). Wall has more than twice as many games with 20 points and 10 assists as anyone in Wizards franchise history; Rod Strickland had 43 such games for the Bullets/Wizards.

Numbers add up for win in Brooklyn

The Nets spread the scoring in their 126–121 victory over the Magic in Brooklyn. Six players reached double-digits in points for Brooklyn, with three – D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll, and Trevor Booker – tying for the team-lead with 17 points. Only one team in the previous three seasons had a game in which it scored at least 125 points with none of its players scoring as many as 18 points. And that team, naturally, was the Nets. On April 4 of last season, the Nets blew out the 76ers in Philadelphia, 141–118, with Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin co-leading the team with 16 points apiece.

Crawford’s points were quite fourth-coming

Jamal Crawford poured in 17 points, all in the fourth quarter, to help the Timberwolves win their home opener over the Jazz and improve to 1–1 on the season. Only one other Timberwolves player in the last 20 seasons scored at least 17 points in a game, all coming in a single quarter. On Jan. 5, 2013, Darrick Williams racked up 18 points, all in the fourth quarter, though that was not enough to help Minnesota come back against the Blazers.

Ovechkin makes history with latest OT-winner

Alex Ovechkin became the first player in NHL history to score 20 regular-season overtime goals when he tallied a power play goal in extra time to lift the Capitals to a 4–3 win at Detroit. Jaromir Jagr, who ranks second with 19 overtime goals, had scored 12 when Ovechkin made his NHL debut in October 2005. Ovechkin’s goal on Friday was his league-leading 10th goal this season. He reached double-figures in goals in his eighth game, faster than in any of his 12 other NHL seasons (his previous best: 10th game in 2013–14).

Laine racking up goals

Patrik Laine scored two goals, both on power plays, in the Jets’ 4–3 victory over the Wild. Laine has scored 40 goals in 80 games since he made his NHL debut just over a year ago. The only active NHL player who reached the 40-goal mark in fewer games than Laine is Alex Ovechkin (59 games). The other current players who hit the 40-goal plateau in fewer than 90 games are Auston Matthews (81) and Sidney Crosby (82).

Dorsett an unlikely scorer for Canucks

Derek Dorsett tied his career highs for goals and points in one game by scoring twice and assisting on another goal to help lead the Canucks to a 4–2 win at Buffalo on Friday. Dorsett, who has been better known for racking up penalty minutes than for producing points in his ten seasons in the NHL, had scored two goals in a game only once before (for Columbus in December 2011) and likewise had earned three points only one other time (for Vancouver in March 2015). Dorsett now leads the Canucks with four goals in the team’s seven games this season. He scored no more than four goals in six of his nine previous seasons in the NHL.

Sharks Jones-ing for a shutout

Sharks goaltender Martin Jones posted his first shutout of the season with a 28-save, 3–0 win against the Devils in Newark on Friday. Jones has averaged one shutout for every 10.3 starts during his five seasons in the NHL (16 shutouts in 164 starts). That’s the third-best shutout rate since 2013–14 among goaltenders who have made at least 150 starts over that span. The top two marks belong to Cam Talbot (one shutout for every 9.7 starts) and Braden Holtby (10.1).

Late goal by Sheary makes the difference for Penguins

Conor Sheary’s power play goal with 2:53 left to play in the third period snapped a 3–3 tie and proved decisive in the Penguins’ 4–3 win over the Panthers in Florida. It’s the first time this season that a Penguins player scored a go-ahead goal in the final five minutes of regulation time. Pittsburgh scored four such goals last season with Sheary netting two of them: November 8 versus Edmonton and March 5 against Buffalo.