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Celtics in rare territory for top seed

Jeff Fogle
VSiN.com

April 18, 2017 11:53 PM

A No. 1 seed moved closer to a shocking first-round elimination as postseason drama continues to unfold in VSiN City.

Top-seeded Celtics drop second straight to Bulls
It’s rare indeed for a #1 seed to be in trouble this early in an NBA playoff series against a #8 seed. The Boston Celtics must now win four of the next five games to advance to the second round, even though only two of those games at most will be on their home parquet. 

Chicago (plus 7.5) 111, Boston 97

  • Rebounds: Chicago 43, Boston 38
  • Turnovers: Chicago 10, Boston 16
  • Fast Break Points: Chicago 14, Boston 9

Both teams shot well (56% and 57% respectively on two-pointers, and 10 makes apiece on treys). Ultimately the difference-maker was that Chicago executed its offense much more cleanly while also stealing some cheapies. Those 111 points don't exactly jump off the page as a scoring explosion these days. But they came on just 93 possessions. Check this out:

  • Chicago 2-pointers: 56%
  • Chicago 3-pointers: 40% (which is the same as 60% on two’s)

So…sharpshooting, execution, PLUS an advantage on the boards was just too much for demoralized Boston to overcome. The Celtics were the worst #1 seed ever in terms of point differential. Then their star suffered a devastating emotional blow. The energy just wasn’t there to defend and rebound with a passion for 48 full minutes. Chicago’s mediocre offense shouldn’t look this sharp in a road playoff game immediately on the heels of a service break. 

Through two games, Chicago and Over is 4-0, with the Bulls beating the market by 11 and 21 points and both games landing on 208. Game 3 is scheduled for Friday in the Windy City. Expect a line within arm’s reach of pick-em. 

Raptors and Clippers get back to even with home victories
Saturday’s other two upset victims bounced back to even their respective series at one game apiece. Let’s look at a few of the key stats. 

Toronto (-8) 106, Milwaukee 100

  • Two-point Pct: Toronto 39%, Milwaukee 48%
  • Three Pointers: Toronto 11/23, Milwaukee 14/29

Fantastic shooting from long range by both teams. That’s what drove the game over the Vegas total by double digits…and turned a 180 in the series opener into a 206 here. That’s 25 of 52 combined, just below 50% on bombs! (For you pace followers, tempo did increase here from 88 possessions in the opener to 92). 

Toronto seemed to be in command with a 95-83 lead and 9:11 to go in the game. Milwaukee would get within one point at 98-97 with just under three minutes to go, and would have the ball down two at 102-100 three times without being able to sink an equalizer. Credit the Raptors for getting the job done at the end. But, they’re not yet able to sustain the kind of scoreboard distance the market has been expecting. Underdog Milwaukee covered the plus 8 Tuesday by a bucket, after getting the money by 21 points in the series opener. 

Games 3 and 4 will be coming up quickly Thursday and Saturday in Milwaukee. Toronto knows it needs to break serve to regain home court. 

LA Clippers (-9) 99, Utah 91

  • Two-Point Pct: Utah 49%, LA Clippers 59%
  • Points in the Paint: Utah 38, LA Clippers 60
  • Rebounds: Utah 33, LA Clippers 39

The absence of Rudy Gobert was felt much more emphatically here. Though, part of that blowout inside the arc was likely due to Utah relaxing a bit after stealing the opener. The Clippers led wire-to-wire, though they couldn't cover the very high market point spread. NBA underdogs went 3-0 ATS Tuesday, and the dogs in these three series are now 6-0 ATS counting those three Saturday upsets. 

Game 3 in Clippers/Jazz won’t be until Friday night in Utah.

Three games on tap Wednesday and Thursday. Here’s a quick review of those point spreads. 

Wednesday (Home teams all lead 1-0 in series)

  • Atlanta at Washington (-5, 211); 7 p.m. ET on NBA Network
  • Oklahoma City at Houston (-7.5, 224); 8 p.m. ET on TNT
  • Portland at Golden State (-14, 219.5); 10:30 p.m. ET on TNT

Kevin Durant was announced as questionable Tuesday afternoon with a strained calf. That caused the South Point to take the game off the board, while other shops dropped the line from -15 or -15.5 down to -14. The total came down about a point everywhere as well. 

Thursday (Cleveland and San Antonio lead 2-0, Raptors/Bucks is 1-1)

  • Cleveland (-2, 211.5) at Indiana; 7 p.m. ET on TNT
  • Toronto at Milwaukee; 8 p.m. ET on NBA Network
  • San Antonio (-3, 185.5) at Memphis, 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT

The market is pricing home court at about 3.5 points in the Cavs/Pacers series, with the Cavs falling from around -9 at home to just -2 in Indianapolis (a 7-point drop represents 3.5 points at each site. Same out west as SA falls from around -10 to -3).  No line up yet in Milwaukee as we prepare this report for you. The expectation is near pick-em with a total in the mid 190’s. 

NHL: Rangers, Blue Jackets, Sharks all win with backs to the wall
Only three games were on Tuesday's hockey slate. The sport needed a bit of a rest break after that crazy Monday. The New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and San Jose Sharks were all in dire straits in the marketplace. New York and San Jose avoided the disaster of 3-1 series deficits while Columbus avoided outright elimination. 

NY Rangers (pick-em) 2, Montreal 1

  • Shots: Montreal 24, NY Rangers 32

We’re back even at two games apiece. Now a best-of-three with the Canadiens enjoying home ice in Game 5 and then Game 7 if needed. The shot counts don’t suggest a lot of urgency from Montreal. They trailed 2-1 over the last 35 minutes of the game. Yet, the Rangers won total shots 22-12 in the second and third periods. Perhaps the Habs were satisfied with the split in Gotham after taking Game 3. Total scoring in the series is knotted at 8-8. Montreal has the only power play goal of the showdown so far. 

Columbus (plus 115) 5, Pittsburgh 4

  • Shots: Pittsburgh 31, Columbus 34

Pittsburgh led the series 3-0 coming in, and the market assumed a sweep was imminent with a surprising road favorite price. Pittsburgh was only -160 and -150 in their home games, but then -135 on the road tonight. Almost a replay of Monday night’s choke jobs as Columbus watched a 3-0 lead tighten to 5-4 with just under a minute to go. The Penguins are still a virtual lock to get through, with just one win to go and two home games in their pocket if needed. Columbus at least lives to play another day.

San Jose (-140) 7, Edmonton 0

  • Shots: Edmonton 23, San Jose 32

Not much suspense here. San Jose led 2-0 by the end of the first period, 4-0 by the midway point, and 6-0 by the end of the second period. That after a grand total of three goals had been scored by the two teams combined in the last two games. Edmonton seemed content to take a 2-2 series tie back to Alberta knowing they would have home ice advantage twice in the “best of three” that remains. 

Back to a four-game slam on the Wednesday schedule…

  • Washington (-140, 5.5--Under -130) at Toronto; 7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network
  • Ottawa at Boston (-165, 5); 7:30 p.m. ET on USA Network
  • Minnesota at St. Louis (pick-em, 5--Under -135); 9:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network
  • Anaheim at Calgary (pick-em, 5--Over -135); 10 p.m. on USA Network

Big first-round underdogs Toronto and Ottawa lead the first two listed series 2-1. St. Louis and Anaheim are going for sweeps in the Western nightcaps up 3-0. 

MLB stands for Michael Lambourne’s Baseball!
“A Numbers Game” producer Michael Lambourne has been talking with Gill Alexander on recent shows about starting pitchers who are likely to regress in performance from misleading early season ERA’s. You regular listeners know that sabermetric analysis has more respect for xFIP (fielding independent pitching assessments normalized for a standard home run rate) than it does for ERA when trying to assess a pitcher’s true skill level.

Tuesday afternoon, Michael compiled for VSIN City a list of the 10 pitchers most likely to perform much worse than their current ERA’s would suggest, and 10 pitchers who will likely show better results than their current ERA’s would suggest.  

Disasters Waiting to Happen
Andrew Triggs (A’s): 0.00 ERA, 5.15 xFIP, difference of -5.15
Jeremy Hellickson (Phils): 1.59 ERA, 5.45 xFIP; difference of -3.86
Brett Anderson (Cubs): 0.84 ERA, 4.53 xFIP; difference of -3.69
James Shields (CWS): 1.62 ERA, 5.17 xFIP; difference of -3.55
Julio Teheran (Braves): 0.95 ERA, 4.49 xFIP; difference of -3.54
Ervin Santana (Twins): 0.41 ERA, 3.74 xFIP; difference of -3.33
Hector Santiago (Twins): 1.47 ERA, 4.77 xFIP; difference of -3.30
James Paxton (Mariners): 0.00 ERA, 2.89 xFIP; difference of -2.89
Daniel Norris (Tigers): 2.19 ERA, 5.02 xFIP; difference of -2.83
Patrick Corbin (D-backs): 2.81 ERA, 5.61 xFIP; difference of -2.80

OK, Paxton of Seattle isn’t really a “disaster” waiting to happen because an xFIP of 2.89 is fantastic. The point here is that he’s obviously not going to maintain a clean scorecard moving forward. His runs allowed will be much closer to that xFIP than his current perfect ERA. The same is true to a lesser extent with Santana of the Twins. 

For the rest, some bad games are likely ahead.

Now, just because a disaster is “waiting” to happen…that doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen the minute you notice that potential. These pitchers will see their ERA’s move toward their xFIP in fairly short order. That may happen to some quickly, others more gradually over time. 

Tuesday night, two pitchers on that list were in action:

  • Triggs kept pitching well with 0 earned runs allowed in 6 innings
  • Anderson got rocked for the Cubs, allowing 6 earned runs in just 3.2 innings 

Fading both in the first five innings would have yielded a 1-0-1 record (A’s/Rangers was a scoreless tie through five, while the Brewers led the Cubs 7-4), and a nice profit because Milwaukee was in the range of plus 160 vs. Anderson. The Brewers bullpen would blow Anderson’s lead for full game bettors.

Let’s go to the other side of the spectrum…

Better Than ERA Would Suggest
Trevor Bauer (Indians): 8.44 ERA, 2.52 xFIP; difference of 5.92
Robert Gsellman (Mets): 9.28 ERA, 3.36 xFIP; difference of 5.92
Tyler Anderson (Rockies): 8.59 ERA, 4.34 xFIP; difference of 4.25
Bronson Arroyo (Reds): 9.90 ERA, 5.98 xFIP; difference of 3.92
Rick Porcello (Red Sox): 7.56 ERA, 3.75 xFIP; difference of 3.81
Jeff Samardzija (Giants): 6.16 ERA, 2.57 xFIP; difference of 3.59
Zack Davies (Brewers): 8.79 ERA, 5.26 xFIP; difference of 3.53
Tommy Milone (Wright): 7.36 ERA, 3.93 xFIP; difference of 3.43
Steven Wright (Red Sox): 8.36 ERA, 4.95 xFIP; difference of 3.41
Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees): 8.36 ERA, 5.10 xFIP; difference of 3.35

Only one pitcher from that group saw action Tuesday. Arroyo of Cincinnati pitched 5 innings and allowed 3 earned runs vs. Baltimore. That was enough to get a five-inning win because the Reds’ bats exploded behind him. Baltimore won the first five innings 9-3 as a favorite of at least 130, and that was the final score of the whole game as well. Arroyo’s “one game” ERA tonight was 5.40, much closer to his xFIP than his full season ERA entering the night. 

Smart handicappers will keep an eye on these 20 pitchers moving forward. Michael will also keep us posted as the lists change through the course of the season. Some names will drop off, others will work their way on in a way bettors can take advantage of. Yes, it can seem counter-intuitive to fade pitchers with great ERA’s, and to back pitchers with lousy ERA’s. Make regression your friend! And, consider focusing your efforts on 5-inning propositions where the impact of misleading “mainstream” starting pitching stats can best be exploited 

Odds and Ends: Legends Edition
A quick reminder that poker legend Daniel Negreanu will join Pauly Howard Wednesday on “Follow the Money.” Negreanu is a six-time bracelet winner at the World Series of Poker, and has already been inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame (even though “Kid Poker” is only 42 years old). “Follow the Money” airs weekdays at 2 p.m. ET, 11 a.m. in Las Vegas. (If you can’t catch it live, be sure to watch the re-broadcast!)

South Point oddsmaking legends Jimmy Vaccaro and Chris Andrews were profiled by Gary Trask of Casino City Times. We know you’ll enjoy this fascinating inside look at the careers of industry veterans who are still at the very top of their game.

Gill Alexander compiled his recent VSiN interviews with Brent Musburger into a special edition of his "Beating the Book" podcast. This is a great chance for newcomers to catch up on those very entertaining discussions with one of the biggest names in sports broadcasting history. 

Thanks for today’s visit to VSiN City. If you have any comments or questions, please drop us an email.

If you are not yet a newsletter subscriber, enjoy complete playoff coverage and MLB handicapping tips by signing up here.

Follow us on Twitter: @VSiNLive.

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