Elias Says: April 6, 2017

Cavaliers cream Celtics to retake top spot in East

In the battle for first place in the Eastern Conference, the Cavaliers overcame a shaky first quarter to run away with a 114–91 victory over the Celtics in Boston. Cleveland missed 20 of 27 field-goal attempts in the first quarter, marking the third time this season that the Cavs missed at least 20 shots in the first quarter. The Cavaliers won all three of those games – November 27 at Philadelphia, January 2 versus New Orleans, and Wednesday at Boston. No other team this season has multiple wins with at least 20 unsuccessful field-goal attempts in the opening quarter.

This was the latest into a season, in terms of games played, that two teams that were tied for the best record in a conference played each other. The previous latest was on March 15, 1977, when the Nuggets and Lakers met with identical 42–25 records. The Nuggets won that game, 107–95, but the Lakers ended up with the No. 1 seed in the conference.

LeBron outstanding in Boston

LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 36 points and six assists while also posting a plus-minus rating of plus-32 (meaning Cleveland outscored Boston by 32 with James on the court). That’s tied for the best plus-minus rating by a player in a road game against the Celtics over the last seven seasons. Kevin Durant compiled a plus-32 rating at Boston earlier this season on November 18, and Marcin Gortat finished plus-32 for the Wizards against the Celtics on April 16, 2014.

Westbrook oh so close to passing the Big O

Russell Westbrook finished one rebound shy of notching his 42nd triple-double of the season and surpassing Oscar Robertson’s long-held record in the Thunder’s three-point victory over the Grizzlies on Wednesday. Westbrook still enjoyed a huge night versus Memphis, compiling 45 points, 10 assists, nine rebounds, and a season-high five steals. No other player met or surpassed all four of those plateaus in a game since 1973–74, when steals were first recorded.

Including Wednesday’s near-miss, Westbrook has had seven games this season in which he missed recording a triple-double by either one rebound or one assist. The single-season record for most “almost-triple-doubles”– games in which a player recorded a double-double and missed a triple-double by a single point, rebound, assist, steal, or block – is 18, done by Oscar Robertson in the 1962–63 campaign. Westbrook and Rajon Rondo are the only players with seven games of that kind in a season over the past 25 seasons (Rondo had seven such games in 2015–16 with the Kings).

Curry goes wild in the first versus Phoenix

Stephen Curry scored more than half of his 42 points in the first quarter, giving the Warriors a huge early advantage in their victory over the Suns. Curry compiled 23 points in the first quarter, which was five more points than Phoenix scored over the same 12 minutes. Wednesday’s game marked the eighth time that Curry accumulated more points than the opposing team in a quarter. Coincidentally, all of Curry’s previous seven instances of outscoring opposing teams occurred in the third quarter.

A rested development in San Antonio

Gregg Popovich rested Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge in the second half on Wednesday and the Lakers were the beneficiaries, coming away victorious in San Antonio. The Spurs, who trailed by as many as 26 points in the first half, came back to even the score early in the fourth quarter but never held a lead at any point in the game. Wednesday’s game marked the first time in nearly 10 years that a team at least 30 games over .500 lost to a team at least 30 games under .500 without taking a lead at any point of the game. On April 16, 2007, the 20–60 Grizzlies earned a 10-point win over the 58–22 Spurs, who were resting Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili for the upcoming playoffs.

Rockets avenge sweep by finishing off Nuggets

James Harden helped the Rockets finish their season-sweep of the Nuggets with a 110–104 victory over Denver on Wednesday. The Rockets, who went 0–3 against the Nuggets last season, are the only team to sweep an intraconference opponent this season after going winless against that team last season.

Harden great versus pretty much everyone

Harden, who finished with 31 points and 10 assists on Wednesday, averaged 32.5 points and 10.0 assists in four games against the Nuggets this season. Denver is one of 10 teams against which Harden has averaged at least 30 points and 10 assists per game this season. Entering this season, the only player in NBA history to average at least 30 points and 10 assists per game against as many as 10 different teams within a single season was Nate Archibald, who did that versus 10 teams in the 1972–73 campaign for the Kansas City-Omaha Kings.

Raptors claw back in win at Detroit

The Raptors climbed out of a 20-point hole in their 105–102 comeback win over the Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills. Entering Wednesday, Toronto had lost its last 52 road games in which it fell behind by at least 20 points. The Raptors’ last comeback win of that kind on the road also took place on the Pistons’ home floor – Toronto erased a 25-point deficit on Dec. 11, 2010, in a 120–116 win at Detroit.

Lowry and DeRozan helpers extraordinaire

Kyle Lowry (27 points, 10 assists) and DeMar DeRozan (12 points, 10 assists) both reached double digits in points and assists on Wednesday. Only two other Raptors duos notched points/assists double-doubles in the same game prior to Wednesday. Damon Stoudamire and Doug Christie did so for Toronto in April 1997 against the Wizards, as did Jose Calderon and T.J. Ford in February 2007 versus the Magic.

Clippers’ winning streak continues thanks to Griffin, Redick

Blake Griffin and JJ Redick handled the bulk of the scoring for the Clippers in their 112-101 victory over the Mavericks. Griffin finished with a team-high 32 points, including 18 in the second half, while Redick contributed 25 points, 18 of which came before halftime. Wednesday’s game marked the fourth straight game for the Clippers in which more than one player scored 25 or more points. Redick and Chris Paul did so for Los Angeles on March 29, and Griffin and Paul did so on March 30 and April 1. The only other time in franchise history that multiple Clippers/Braves players scored 25 or more points in as many as four straight games was in the 1975–76 campaign, when Bob McAdoo and Randy Smith produced 25 or more points in four consecutive games for Buffalo in March 1976. Jim McMillian also reached the 25-point plateau in two of those four games.

Johnson on fire in Charlotte

James Johnson tied his season high with 26 points in the Heat’s 112–99 victory over the Hornets in Charlotte. Johnson went 10-for-12 from the field, going 6-for-7 on two-point attempts and 6-for-7 on threes. He became the first Heat player to score at least 25 points in a game with 12 or fewer field-goal attempts and no attempts from the free-throw line. The last player on any team with such a game was Eric Gordon, who also went 10-for-12 from the field with six three-pointers to score 26 points on Dec. 26, 2015, for the Pelicans against the Rockets.

Jones and Davis each go deep

Adam Jones and Chris Davis each homered in the Orioles’ 3–1 win over the Blue Jays on Wednesday. It’s the 36th time that they’ve gone deep in the same game since Davis joined Jones on the Orioles in 2011, the highest total for any teammates over that time.

Leon is king for a day

Sandy Leon’s 12th-inning walkoff home run gave the Red Sox a 3–0 win over the Pirates on Wednesday. He’s the first player to hit a walkoff homer in a shutout win of 12 or more innings after having caught the entire game since the Cardinals’ Del Rice did that on April 30, 1950. Rice’s homer came in the 13th inning off Cubs starting pitcher Johnny Schmitz; St. Louis’s starter, Harry Brecheen, also went the distance.

Only three other Red Sox players have hit an extra-inning walkoff homer to end a shutout win: Carroll Hardy in 1962, Rico Petrocelli in 1971 and Dave Stapleton in 1980.

Baker’s Nationals start season like Baker’s Giants

The Nationals overcame a two-run deficit for the second time in as many games this season in their 6–4 win over the Marlins on Wednesday. They’re the first National League team to win their first two games of a season in that manner since Dusty Baker’s 1999 Giants tied a major-league record by winning their first four games after trailing by two or more runs in each one.

Lindor stuns Rangers

Francisco Lindor homered from each side of the plate, including a go-ahead grand slam in the ninth inning, as the Indians completed a sweep in Texas for their first 3-0 start since 1998. Lindor became the third shortstop in major-league history to homer from each side of the plate, including a grand slam, joining Jose Valentin, who did it in 2002, and Danny Espinosa, who did it twice in a four-day span last summer.

Snakes bite Giants

The Diamondbacks overcame a three-run deficit to defeat the Giants for the second time in three games on Wednesday, having also done it on Sunday. No team had two comeback wins from three or more runs down in a series against the Giants since the Nationals did it in July 2012.

Springer 5, Mariners 3

George Springer drove in all five of the Astros’ runs in their 13-inning win over the Mariners on Wednesday, including a game-ending three-run homer. He’s the first leadoff batter to cap a five-RBI game with an extra-inning walkoff homer since Pepper Martin for the Cardinals in 1933.

Kemp’s third double is a game winner

Matt Kemp’s two-run double in the 12th inning gave the Braves a 3–1 win over the Mets on Wednesday. Kemp’s .575 slugging average in extra frames is the fourth-highest among active players (minimum: 100 at-bats), behind Albert Pujols (.690), Hunter Pence (.627) and Victor Martinez (.600).

Finnegan allows only one hit to Phillies

Brandon Finnegan threw seven scoreless innings and allowed only one hit, Maikel Franco’s first-inning single, in the Reds’ 2–0 win over the Phillies on Wednesday. Before Finnegan, the last Reds pitcher to throw seven-plus shutout innings while allowing no more than one hit in his first start of a season was Jerry Arrigo in 1967.

Twins’ big inning subjugates Royals

Miguel Sano hit a three-run triple and Eduardo Escobar blasted a three-run homer in the seventh inning of the Twins’ 9–1 win over the Royals on Wednesday. It’s the first time since the Twins arrived in Minnesota in 1961 that they had a three-run triple and three-run homer in the same inning.

Sano’s triple was a welcome sight for Twins fans: Minnesota hit .190 with the bases loaded last season, the lowest in the major leagues in any of the past three seasons (2014–16) and the lowest for Minnesota since 1982.

Thames marks his return

Eric Thames, who spent the last three seasons playing in South Korea, hit his first major-league homer since September 23, 2012, on Wednesday. That gap of over 4½ years between homers was the longest by a player who had already hit 20 homers in the major leagues since Lew Ford ended a stretch of over five years when he returned to the bigs in 2012.

Norris comes through in clutch

A two-out two-run single by Derek Norris in the second inning put the Rays ahead for good in their 4–1 victory over the Yankees. Last season, Norris batted just .159 in at-bats with two outs and runners on base, including 3-for-27 (.111) in that situation after the All-Star break.

Holtby blanks Rangers

Braden Holtby recorded his ninth shutout of the season with a 2–0 victory against the Rangers in Washington. Holtby’s nine shutouts tie the single-season career high he set with the Capitals in 2014–15. The only other active NHL netminder with two seasons of nine or more shutouts on his career register is the goaltender Holtby beat on Wednesday, Henrik Lundqvist. “King Henrik” notched 10 shutouts for the Rangers in 2007–08 and 11 in 2010–11.

Robin takes a starring role

Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner made 31 saves in his 2–1 win over the Canadiens in Buffalo. Lehner was 3–8–3 with a 2.81 GAA in the 16 games he played against the Sabres’ Atlantic Division rivals this season through the end of January, but he’s 7–1–1 with a 1.59 GAA in nine intradivision game since then.