Crowds came flocking back in force, we had the full complement of golf majors and tennis grand slams, and sport almost ran smoothly over the past 12 months.

To boot, there were sensational moments, featuring both the biggest names in sport and some that few had heard of at this time last year.

Here, Stats Perform looks back at some of the biggest stories of the year, and the numbers that made them so remarkable.

Jacobs, the shock Tokyo Olympics sprint king

Entering 2021, Italy's Lamont Marcell Jacobs had a career-best of 10.03 seconds for the 100 metres. By most standards that is staggeringly quick, but at the very elite level of sprinting it ranks as only middling. To put it into some context, 34 men ran quicker than 10.03 seconds in 2021. Jacobs finished only 19th at the 2019 World Championship and few outside of athletics circles knew the name. The former long-jumper grabbed a little attention when he produced a world-leading 6.47 seconds to win the 60 metres at the European Indoor Championships in March, then he ran 9.95 for the 100m in Savona in May, but he still headed to the Tokyo Olympics as a big outsider, not expected to be a factor. Jacobs made a mockery of his lowly billing, as he powered to personal bests in the heats and semi-finals before doing so again in the final, dashing home first in 9.80 seconds to grab gold and leaving rivals gasping in astonishment. He led Italy to sprint relay gold too, a glorious double in that country's remarkable year of success.

Emma Raducan-who? From A level exams to US Open top marks

Twelve months ago – no, make that barely six – London-based Raducanu was simply not a factor in grand slam discussions. Fresh out of school, she had to fight to earn a wildcard for Wimbledon when organisers initially baulked at the idea, but they were persuaded and Raducanu went on to reach the fourth round. The teenager who was born in Canada and has a Romanian father and Chinese mother had arrived, but it was at the US Open that she roared into the history books. There was no wildcard in New York for the British youngster, but Raducanu won three qualifying matches and then raced through the main draw, defeating 19-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez in the title match. She did not drop a set in 10 matches and became the first women in the Open era to win 10 main-draw matches in her first two grand slams. It made her the first qualifier to win a slam and the first US Open women's singles winner since Serena Williams in 2014 to triumph at the tournament without dropping a set along the way. The $2.5million in prize money was followed by endorsement offers from across the world as Raducanu became an instant superstar. The tennis world waits to see what comes next.

No country for old men as US win Ryder Cup

The youngest Ryder Cup team ever assembled by the United States torched European hopes at Whistling Straits in September, scoring a 19-9 victory. That was the widest margin of victory by either side since Europe, rather than Great Britain and Ireland, became the USA's opposition in 1979. Dustin Johnson bounced back from losing four of his five matches in the 2018 edition to finish with a 5-0 record, just the third player in US v Europe battles to finish with a perfect record (after Larry Nelson in 1979 and Francesco Molinari in 2018). Johnson, at 37, was the oldest player on the team. European veteran Lee Westwood matched Nick Faldo's record of 11 appearances in the match, while Sergio Garcia stretched his points record from 25.5 to 28.5 as he and Jon Rahm combined well, but it was emphatically an event that belonged to the host Americans.

Veteran Mickelson still had his day 

He might have been absent for the US team's Ryder Cup triumph, but Phil Mickelson's name was up in lights again as he became the oldest winner of a men's golf major, landing the US PGA Championship title in May. At the age of 50, Mickelson caused a huge upset at Kiawah Island, scooping his sixth career major when he held off Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen on the final day. It was his only top-10 finish of the year on the PGA Tour.

Federer bagelled, Djokovic denied Golden Slam

Strange things happened in men's tennis in 2021, not least the sight of Roger Federer suffering a 6-0 'bagel' at the end of a straight-sets Wimbledon quarter-final defeat. That happened against Hubert Hurkacz in July, and it was the last match Federer played in the year. He wants to play again, and the 40-year-old believes he can, but knee surgery will keep him out of action until mid-2022 at the earliest, by his own reckoning, and that Centre Court defeat to Hurkacz could turn out to be how his eight-title Wimbledon career ends. Novak Djokovic joined Federer and Nadal on a joint-record 20 grand slam titles by cleaning up at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon, and he has now spent a record 353 weeks at number one, passing Federer this year. But Djokovic could not make it a Golden Slam, losing to eventual champion Alexander Zverev in the Olympic Games semi-finals, and a Grand Slam was just beyond him too, Daniil Medvedev winning his first major when he swept the Serbian in straight sets in the US Open final.

Another year, more records for Brady

At the age of 43, Tom Brady was MVP in the Super Bowl as he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to their 31-9 win over the Kansas City Chiefs in February. He now has seven Super Bowl wins behind him, another outright record, and has been MVP in the game on an unmatched five occasions. Brady, having turned 44 in August, is in the hunt for another Super Bowl ring and perhaps outright NFL MVP honours this season, although Aaron Rodgers will likely deny him the latter accolade. Still, the records keep coming for Brady. He has moved in front of Drew Brees to have the most pass completions in league history (7,200 and counting), become the first ever 15-time Pro Bowler, and in December became the first quarterback to throw 700 career touchdowns.

England's Ashes surrender calls for Root and branch review

Joe Root became the first England captain – or player, indeed – to suffer nine defeats in Tests starting in a single calendar year, in a strange 12 months for the Yorkshireman. His form with the bat has been up there with the best of his career, the 31-year-old scoring 1,708 Test runs to go third on the all-time single-year list, with only Mohammad Yousuf and Viv Richards ahead of him. Even in the Tests that England have lost, Root has made a number of handy contributions with the bat, scoring 648 runs at an average of 38.11. Overall he has scored 26 per cent of England's Test runs across the year, the highest proportion of any player for their respective team in 2021. Yet the Ashes were lost by lunch on day three of the third Test, an outrageously dismal result. Root top-scored in England's two innings in Melbourne, typically, but he cannot get a tune out of many of his team-mates, so ends the year with his future as skipper in doubt.

Curry still hot as NBA records fall

In January, LaMelo Ball became the youngest player to post a triple-double in the NBA, as the 19-year-old Charlotte Hornets prospect grabbed 22 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists in a win over the Atlanta Hawks. Come December, the Memphis Grizzlies set two records in the same game, scoring a franchise-high number of points and winning by the biggest margin in NBA history, as they handed out a 152-79 thrashing to the Oklahoma City Thunder. December was also the month when Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors set a new three-pointer record, becoming the first man to make 3,000 threes in a career after going past Ray Allen's previous NBA record of 2,973.

LeBron James applauded Ja Morant's performance as he led the Memphis Grizzlies to a 104-99 home win over the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers were ahead in the third quarter, but a dazzling display from Morant – including a late flourish – saw the Grizzlies come back from behind to claim victory.

The 22-year-old scored 41 points in total, the second time he has broken the 40-point barrier in two games against the Lakers this season.

James, who managed to equal a career-high record of eight three-pointers in the defeat, claimed the quality of Morant's shooting made him nearly unstoppable, with the Grizzlies star recording six for seven from beyond the arc.

"When you shoot the ball as well as he did tonight from the perimeter, with his speed and his athleticism, it's going be hard to contain a guy like that because he's doing the whole three levels of scoring," James said after the game.

"You can't, there's nothing you can do. He has you at his beck [and call]."

Lakers guard Malik Monk agreed with his team-mate, adding that the free throws his side gave away helped Morant find his range.

"We started fouling, man, and he went to the free throw line and started seeing the ball go in, and he got his rhythm that way," Monk said.

"And when a guy gets it going like that, there's not much you can do."

Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins credited Morant with leading by example and spurring the side on to victory from a losing position late on.

"What an unbelievable night by [Morant], the tone he was setting throughout the game," Jenkins said.

"When he got going, it just kind of fuelled everyone else, and we kind of just broke loose there in that third quarter."

Ja Morant's 41 points overshadowed LeBron James as the Memphis Grizzlies won 104-99 to inflict a sixth defeat in seven games for the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

Morant was excellent for the Grizzlies, draining six of seven three-pointers in his 41-point haul along with 10 rebounds and two assists.

James, who turns 38 on Friday, tried his best for the slumping Lakers with 37 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists, while Russell Westbrook had another triple-double with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists.

But the four-time MVP came up short in the final 30 seconds, missing a three-point attempt to tie the game before an aimless pass turned the ball over.

Morant skilfully tipped in two to make it 102-97 with 1:15 to go and scored 25 of his 41 points in the second half.

Booker stars as Suns silence Thunder

Devin Booker landed six triples in his 38-point haul as the Phoenix Suns defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 115-97 to improve to a 27-7, putting them joint-top with the Golden State Warriors. Along with his 38 points, Booker also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Chicago Bulls had a full team performance in their 131-117 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, with contributions from Zach LaVine (25 points), Coby White (17 points, 12 assists), Nikola Vucevic (16 points, 20 rebounds) and DeMar DeRozan (20 points, eight assists).

Rudy Gobert starred with 22 points and 14 rebounds as the Utah Jazz recorded their eighth straight road win, beating the depleted Portland Trail Blazers 120-105 despite Damian Lillard's 32 points.

Brown struggles from beyond the arc

Jaylen Brown has been in top form lately but hit one of 13 from beyond the arc as the Boston Celtics went down 91-82 to the Los Angeles Clippers.

James Harden scored 39 points in his second game since coming out of the NBA's COVID-19 protocols to inspire the Brooklyn Nets past the Los Angeles Clippers 124-108.

Harden returned with 36 points and a triple-double in the Nets' 122-155 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Christmas Day and backed that up against the depleted Clippers, who were without star duo Paul George (elbow) and Kawhi Leonard (ACL).

The 2018 NBA MVP was in a dominant mood, with Kevin Durant absent in protocols, shooting 15 of 25 from the field and providing 15 assists, as well as having eight rebounds and two steals.

Patty Mills and Nicolas Claxton both contributed 18 points for the Nets, while the latter had three blocks. Marcus Morris Sr was the Clippers' best with 24 points, five rebounds and six assists.

 

Bulls duo combine for Hawks defeat

Trae Young returned from COVID protocols with 29 points and nine assists but it was not enough as the Atlanta Hawks lost 130-118 to the Chicago Bulls who had Zach LaVine (30 points, four rebounds, nine assists) and DeMar DeRozan (35 points, five rebounds, 10 assists) impress. LaVine and DeRozan became the first team-mates each with 20 points and five assists in a half over the last 25 seasons.

Ja Morant drained a last-gasp clutch shot to earn the Memphis Grizzlies a thrilling 114-113 win over the Phoenix Suns, who were missing center Deandre Ayton and head coach Monty Williams after entering protocols. Desmond Bane had a career-high 32 points and Morant finished with 33, grabbing the win after Devin Booker (30 points) had put the Suns ahead with five seconds left with a three-pointer.

The Utah Jazz extended their win streak to four games, even without injured Donovan Mitchell, as they defeated the San Antonio Spurs 110-104 with Jordan Clarkson (23 points, eight rebounds, five assists) starring off the bench.

 

In-form Celtic misses the mark

Jaylen Brown has been in hot point-scoring form lately but his shooting was down at 33.3 percent as the Boston Celtics – without Jayson Tatum who has entered COVID protocols - lost 108-103 to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Brown scored 26 points but made only two of eight from beyond the arc.

The Philadelphia 76ers moved above .500 as Joel Embiid scored 36 points with 13 rebounds in a 117-96 win over the Washington Wizards on Sunday.

The 76ers center was the dominant player on court, but also involved in a spat with Montrezl Harrell, which saw the latter ejected after a second technical foul in the third quarter.

Embiid had good support from Tobias Harris (23 points, seven rebounds, three assists) and Seth Curry (11 points with three triples, five rebounds, nine assists).

The Wizards had held a six-point quarter-time lead but the 76ers responded with excellent second and third periods, totalling 67-41 to take control of the game.


Jokic double-double leads Nugs past Clippers

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets past the Los Angeles Clippers 103-100 in a thriller with the Serbian center finishing with 26 points, 22 rebounds and eight assists. Youngster Brandon Boston Jr, who had 18 points, missed a three-point attempt on the buzzer to force over-time. Jokic becomes the first player to record 25 or more points, 20 or more rebounds and five or more assists in back-to-back games since Charles Barkley in 1988.

Veteran Kevin Love scored 22 points making six-of-nine from beyond the arc, with nine rebounds from 18 minutes on court as the Cleveland Cavaliers thrashed the Toronto Raptors 144-99 to improve to 20-13. The 45-point win was the Cavs' largest margin since 1991, when they had a franchise-best 68-point win over the Miami Heat.

Zach LaVine scored 32 points including five three-pointers while DeMar DeRozan added 24 points as the Chicago Bulls got past the Indiana Pacers 113-105.  

 

Morant still finding his feet

Ja Morant continues to adjust after returning from injury, shooting eight-of-18 from the field including zero-of-three from three-point range while having four turnovers in the Memphis Grizzlies' 127-102 win over the Sacramento Kings. Morant did finish with 18 points and nine assists.

In what had been a foregone conclusion for years, the Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry officially affirmed himself as the greatest 3-point shooter in NBA history just 11 days before Christmas.

Receiving a pass from Andrew Wiggins at the right wing at Madison Square Garden on December 14, Curry quickly put up a shot from 28 feet out that swished through the net for his 2,974th career 3-pointer, surpassing Ray Allen’s mark.

Curry has revolutionised the game of basketball, and while he didn't invent the 3-point shot, he is credited with being the first one to truly exploit its value.

He broke Allen's tally in 511 fewer games – that's more than six seasons – and when the three-time NBA champion and two-time league MVP finally decides to retire, it's conceivable he could have well over 5,000 made 3s.

While Curry is the best 3-pointer shooter to ever pick up a basketball, you would never guess it by his performances on Christmas.

This will be Curry's ninth game on Christmas, and the NBA's all-time 3-point king has never made more than two 3-pointers in a game on December 25.

That's right, the man who averages 3.8 made 3-pointers a game – the best in league history – and has an NBA-best 517 games with at least three 3-pointers made, is averaging 1.3 made 3s on Christmas.

This season alone, Curry is averaging 5.4 made 3-pointers a game, which beats out the 5.3 he averaged per game last season and the 5.1 he averaged in 2015-16 and again 2018-19 for the best in a single season in NBA history. No other player has averaged more than 4.8 made 3s in a season.

He also enters this Christmas having made at least three 3-pointers in each of his last 14 games, which is tied for the eighth-longest streak in NBA history (Curry is responsible for four of the seven longer streaks). But now he takes the court on a day when all those shots that routinely go through the hoop for him clank off the rim.

In his eight prior Christmas games, Curry has made 0, 0, 2, 1, 1, 2, 2 and 2 3-pointers giving him just 10 made 3s. He's made at least 10 3-pointers in a single game 22 times in his career – 17 more than Klay Thompson, who ranks second on the list.

Just how incomprehensible is it that Curry has never hit at least three 3-pointers on Christmas? There have been 292 times in his career where he's drained at least three 3-pointers in a quarter. Since Curry's 2009-10 rookie season, the only other player with more than 150 quarters with at least three 3-pointers made is Damian Lillard with 166.

Well, perhaps he's not attempting as many 3-pointers on December 25. Nope, that's not the case, he's simply missing badly, shooting 20.4 per cent on his 49 shots from beyond the arc. Just for the sake of comparison, of the 174 players with at least 80 3-point attempts this season, Curry's 20.4 per cent would finish dead last.

His 20.4 per cent shooting from 3-point range on December 25 is his second worst for a date he's played at least three games, beating out only the 17.6 per cent he's shot in three games on December 16.

Curry is typically deadly from the wing, knocking down 43.2 per cent of his shots from there to trail only Joe Harris' 43.3 per cent shooting for the best by any player who started his career in 2003 or later with at least 500 attempts from the wing. However, on Christmas, Curry is abysmal from the wing, misfiring on 28 of his 32 attempts to connect just 12.5 per cent of the time.

Overall, on Christmas he's shooting 30.2 per cent from the floor, which is his worst for a single day with a minimum of three games played. And not only is Curry's shooting on December 25 his worst for any single day, but it's also the worst for anyone who's played on Christmas since 1983 with a minimum of 50 attempts.

Not surprising given his shooting struggles, Curry is averaging 13.1 points on Christmas – 11.2 fewer than his career average – which, again, marks his lowest scoring average for any day in which he's played in at least three games.

It's just about unfathomable for someone with a 24.3-scoring average and 540 career 20-point games, but he has never scored more than 19 points on his eight Christmas Day games. There is only one other date Curry has played more than one game and failed to score 20 points and that is February 16 – and he's had six fewer opportunities, playing just twice on that day.

Part of Curry's Christmas shooting woes could stem from the competition he's facing. The NBA constructs a doozy of a schedule on Christmas Day, pitting the best teams up against one another with one marquee matchup followed by another. So, Curry's Warriors often find themselves in a playoff rematch or a date with another formidable foe.

And while he's struggled mightily on his Christmas Day matchups, Curry has often faced those same teams at other points in the same season and not had the same problems, averaging 20.3 points, on 48.9 per cent shooting from the field and 47.4 per cent from 3-point range.

Just last Christmas, Curry finished with 19 points on 6-of-17 shooting – including 2-of-10 on 3-pointers – in Golden State's 138-99 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. He got a measure of revenge in a rematch with the eventual champion Bucks later in April, exploding for 41 points while shooting 66.7 per cent and making half of his 10 3-point attempts in a one-point victory.

This Christmas, Curry and the Warriors face another huge challenge with a visit to the Phoenix Suns in a showdown between the teams with the league's best two records.

But if his last trip to the desert was any indication, Curry could be in for another long night. Just over three weeks ago on November 30, Curry had his worst shooting performance of the season, going 4-of-21 from the floor (19.0 per cent) and 3-of-14 (21.4 per cent) from beyond the arc for 12 points in a 104-96 loss at Phoenix.

Three days later against the same Suns team, Curry was a bit better, shooting 40 per cent on 20 field goal attempts and going 6-of-11 from the perimeter with 23 points in a 22-point win.

This time, though, he certainly seems poised to exorcise the ghost of Christmas past. He arrives back in Arizona coming off a 46-point performance while draining eight 3s in Thursday's win over the Memphis Grizzlies for his third straight game scoring at least 30 points – the first time this season he's accomplished that.

For the greatest 3-point shooter of all time, it seems that Curry can't possibly have another clunker on Christmas. He's too good to have been in such a funk and it doesn't seem to make sense he would struggle so much on one particular day – unless of course, he doesn't believe in Santa Claus.

Stephen Curry scored 46 points including eight three-pointers as the Golden State Warriors defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 113-104 on Thursday.

Curry fell four points shy of his season-high 50-point haul but dominated throughout for the Warriors, shooting eight-of-14 from beyond the arc with four rebounds and four assists. The two-time MVP brought up his third return of 45 points or more this season.

Gary Payton II played a key role in the starting rotation with 22 points with four triples including a clutch three-pointer in the fourth quarter.

Curry's haul marked a return to form as Golden State improved to 26-6, remain one-half game behind the Phoenix Suns (26-5) for the best record in the NBA ahead of their Christmas Day match-up.

 

LeBron, Kemba and Jokic heroics fall short

LeBron James scored 36 points with nine rebounds, six assists and two blocks but it was not enough to prevent the Los Angeles Lakers from going down 138-110 to the San Antonio Spurs. The result leaves the Lakers with a record below .500 at 16-17 after four straight defeats.

Kemba Walker produced a vintage display with a season-high 44 points with nine rebounds and eight assists as the New York Knicks went down 124-117 to the Washington Wizards.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's heroics were also in vain as the Denver Nuggets lost 115-107 to the Charlotte Hornets despite the Serbian's 29 points, 21 rebounds and five assists.

Devin Booker (30 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) and Deandre Ayton (19 points, 12 rebounds) led the way as the Suns stayed top and claimed their fifth straight win in a 113-101 triumph over the Oklahoma City Thunder, while Khris Middleton (26 points, five rebounds, seven assists) and Jrue Holiday (24 points, seven rebounds, seven assists) delivered again in Giannis Antetokounmpo's absence as the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Dallas Mavericks 102-95.

 

Embiid loses his radar

Joel Embiid shot six-of-17 from the field as the Philadelphia 76ers lost 98-96 to the depleted Atlanta Hawks. Embiid finished with 23 points, 10 rebounds and two assists.

Joel Embiid inspired the Philadelphia 76ers to a thrilling 108-103 road win over the Boston Celtics with 41 points including 17 in the fourth quarter on Monday.

Embiid's remarkable final period also included a steal from a last-ditch Celtics inbound with 3.9 seconds on the clock and the 76ers leading 106-103.

The 76ers center made 14 of 27 shots from the field (52 percent) and collected 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals and four blocks.

Tobias Harris (25 points, seven rebounds and three assists) and Seth Curry (26 points, four rebounds and seven assists) provided good support for Embiid.

Jayson Tatum had a down game for the Celtics, only managing 17 points, while Jaylen Brown scored 30 points with five rebounds and four assists.

 

Draymond's season-first triple-double

Stephen Curry scored 30 points including four three-pointers but Draymond Green (16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) stole the show with his first triple-double of the season as the Golden State Warriors beat the Sacramento Kings 113-98. Green also had two blocks and two steals.

Dejounte Murray became the first player in San Antonio Spurs history to reach six triple-doubles in one season, with 24 points, 12 rebounds and 13 assists as they won 116-92 over the Los Angeles Clippers. Paul George returned from an elbow injury with 25 points, six rebounds and six assists for the Clippers.

Rudy Gobert dominated with 23 points and 21 rebounds as the Utah Jazz improved to 21-9 with a 112-102 win over the Charlotte Hornets. LaMelo Ball (21 points, 11 assists and six rebounds) and Miles Bridges (21 points and 11 rebounds) were good for the Hornets.

 

Grizzlies cannot win with Morant

Ja Morant could not lift the Memphis Grizzlies upon his return from injury, managing only 16 points in a 102-99 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, who had rookie Josh Giddey (19 points and 11 assists) impress. The Grizzlies bizarrely went 10-2 without Morant during his three-week absence, having been 9-10.

Former NBA Rookie of the Year Ja Morant has returned for the Memphis Grizzlies after more than three weeks out with a left knee sprain.

Morant, who was the second pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, was back in the Grizzlies' starting line-up for Monday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The young gun had not played since he hobbled off in their 132-100 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on November 26.

The 22-year-old had been averaging 24.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game until the injury. He was shooting at 47.6 percent from the field.

The Grizzlies had remarkably held a 10-2 record in his absence, improving from 9-10 to 19-12 prior to the Thunder game.

In the early part of this year, Morant had been spoken about as a potential Most Improved Player candidate, despite already scoring 19.1 points per game last year – the 36th-most in the league.

DeMar DeRozan had 38 points as the Chicago Bulls rallied past LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers late in the fourth quarter on the way to a 115-110 victory. 

DeRozan hit a jumper with 52.6 seconds to play to give the Bulls the lead and added a pair of free throws with 15.6 seconds left to extend the margin as Chicago held on late. 

Carmelo Anthony and Wayne Ellington missed game-tying three-point attempts after that before Lonzo Ball iced the win with two more free throws. 

Ball had 19 points and Nikola Vucevic added 19 points and 13 rebounds for the Bulls (18-10), who have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference behind the Brooklyn Nets (21-9). 

James led the Lakers with 31 points and 14 rebounds but made just one of seven shots from three-point range. Anthony had 21 points and Russell Westbrook finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and eight assists for Los Angeles (16-15).

 

Suns rip Hornets, hold NBA's best record

The Phoenix Suns (24-5) can now claim the best record in the NBA after a 137-106 demolition of the Charlotte Hornets as Devin Booker returned to the lineup after missing seven games with a hamstring injury. Booker had 16 points and was one of nine Suns to reach double figures as Phoenix led 37-15 after the first quarter and did not let up, making 20 of 41 three-point attempts to 10 of 45 from beyond the arc for Charlotte (16-16).

Damian Lillard scored 32 points as the Portland Trail Blazers (13-18) picked up a 105-100 road win against the Memphis Grizzlies (19-12). The Grizzlies had won five in a row and 10 of 11 but shot only 38.5 per cent from the field Sunday as they squandered a career-best 37-point night from Dillon Brooks. 

 

Lowry, Heat fall to lowly Pistons

The Miami Heat had won four out of five games entering Sunday but everything fell apart in a 100-90 loss to the Detroit Pistons, who had lost a franchise record-tying 14 in a row. Kyle Lowry made just three shots from the field in 42 minutes for the Heat (18-13), though he finished with 19 points as he went 11-of-16 at the free-throw line. Saddiq Bey had 26 point to lead the Pistons (5-24), who recorded their first victory since beating the Indiana Pacers on November 17. 

Stephen Curry posted 30 points as the Golden State Warriors reclaimed the best record in the NBA with a 111-107 victory at the Boston Celtics.

Curry – the league's all-time three-points leader – nailed five shots from beyond the arc to fuel the Warriors (24-5) on Friday.

The Warriors snapped a five-game losing streak against the Celtics as Andrew Wiggins added 27 points.

It was a milestone victory for head coach Steve Kerr, who became the third coach in franchise history to reach 400 career wins.

"We're coming off the emotional roller coaster ... a lot going on around the league," Curry said after Jordan Poole entered the NBA's COVID-19 protocols. "You try not to get distracted by all the things that are outside the locker room."

 

Lillard's 43 inspires Blazers

Damian Lillard torched the Charlotte Hornets with a season-high 43 points to help the Portland Trail Blazers end a seven-game losing streak by winning 125-116. Lillard was 12 of 19 from the field as he posted the 40th 40-point game of his career.

The San Antonio Spurs upstaged the Utah Jazz 128-126 behind Dejounte Murray's second triple-double in three games – 16 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. San Antonio did not commit a turnover in the third quarter and registered a season-high 41 points in that period to snap Utah's eight-game winning run.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic fell just short of a triple-double after scoring 20 points, collecting 10 rebounds and tallying seven assists in the Denver Nuggets' 133-115 win against the Atlanta Hawks. Trae Young's 34 points and 10 rebounds were not enough for the Hawks.

 

LeBron's Lakers beaten

LeBron James was five-of-13 shooting for 18 points and 10 rebounds in the Los Angeles Lakers' 110-92 defeat at the Minnesota Timberwolves. Isaiah Thomas had 19 points in his second Lakers debut as Karl-Anthony Towns inspired the Timberwolves with 28 points and 10 rebounds.

Not even a career-high 40 points from Jrue Holiday could lift defending champions the Milwaukee Bucks, who went down 116-112 to the New Orleans Pelicans after overtime in the absence of stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.

The Los Angeles Lakers claimed a remarkable 107-104 overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks with rookie Austin Reaves clinching the game with a late three-pointer.

LeBron James finished with 24 points, three rebounds and five assists but missed a last-gasp three-point attempt in normal time, but the Mavs fumbled the rebound and Wayne Ellington swooped to hit a triple to send the game overtime.

Russell Westbrook (23 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists) came up with a clutch three-pointer in overtime - his only of the game - while Anthony Davis had 20 points and 12 rebounds to lift the Lakers to a 16-13 record with their third straight win.

Both sides had traded triples in overtime but 23-year-old shooting guard Reaves stepped up with scores locked at 104-104 after being found by Westbrook wide open, draining his three-point attempt with 0.9 seconds on the clock.

The Lakers surrendered a good start with a poor second quarter, where the Mavs outscored them 27-14, but defensively were excellent keeping Dallas, who were without Luka Doncic, to 27.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

 

Good Holiday with others out

Jrue Holiday stepped up in the absence of Khris Middleton (knee) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (COVID protocols) with 26 points and 14 assists to lead the Milwaukee Bucks past the Indiana Pacers 114-99. Tyrese Maxey had a game-high 27 points for the 76ers.

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic continued his hot run with another triple-double (27 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists) but the Denver Nuggets lost 124-107 to the Minnesota Timberwolves, as Anthony Edwards scored 10 triples in his 38 points.

The Utah Jazz stretched their winning streak to eight games, beating the Los Angeles Clippers 124-103 with Rudy Gobert (20 points and 17 rebounds) and Donovan Mitchell (27 points and six assists) starring.

Devonte' Graham drained a 65-foot game-winning buzzer beater as the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder 113-110, while Gordon Hayward scored 41 points from 29 minutes on court as the Charlotte Hornets beat the San Antonio Spurs 131-115.

 

Embiid loses his touch

Joel Embiid missed a late three-point chance to tie the game and shot five of 13 from the field for his 17 points as the Philadelphia 76ers lost 101-96 to the weakened Miami Heat, who were without Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro. Gabe Vincent landed seven three-pointers in his career-high 26-point haul for the Heat.

As one of only two NBA teams that have never won a division title, the Memphis Grizzlies are in prime position to cut that number in half this season.

Since joining the NBA as the Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995-96, Memphis have finished second five times but have never captured a division crown. The Charlotte Hornets are the only other franchise never to win a division title, though they did finish in a three-way tie for first place in the Southeast in 2015-16 but lost the title to the Miami Heat on a tie-breaker.

Roughly two months into this season and Memphis sit atop a weak Southwest Division with the franchise's first division title a distinct possibility.

No division has a worse composite record than the Southwest with Memphis (17-11), the Dallas Mavericks (14-13), San Antonio Spurs (10-16), Houston Rockets (9-18) and New Orleans Pelicans (8-21) combining for a 58-79 record (42.3). Weaker division opponents certainly will not hurt the Grizzlies' cause, but they appear more than capable of beating just about any team, evidenced by their 13-6 record against the Western Conference.

While Ja Morant has established himself as one of the game's young superstars in his third season, what is most impressive about the Grizzlies is how they have performed without him.

Morant has not played since November 26 due to a sprained left knee and he then entered the NBA's health and safety protocols after testing positive for COVID-19 on December 8.

Somehow, Memphis have been even better with their leading scorer on the shelf, going an inspired 8-1. Prior to this stretch, Memphis were 6-9 in Morant's career when he missed a game.

It has been a dominant run for the Grizzlies, who have outscored opponents by 176 points in those nine games. Since November 28 in their first game without Morant, the Grizzlies rank fifth in the NBA in points per game (113.7), ninth in three-pointers made (112) and lead the league in total rebounds (449) and total steals (108).

Clearly, Memphis are much more than just Morant.

During a five-game winning streak – all without Morant – the Grizzlies led every game from wire-to-wire before the run ended with a 104-96 loss to visiting Dallas on December 8. Included in that five-game surge was a stunning 152-79 thrashing of the Oklahoma City Thunder for the largest margin of victory in league history.

Memphis only rank 20th this season in opponent points per game (109.2) but something has clicked with the defence allowing a league-best 94.1 points during this 8-1 stretch. In the first 19 games this season, Memphis held foes to 101 points or fewer just twice but have done that seven times in the past nine contests.

Memphis are 13-1 (92.9) this season when holding opponents under 110 points. Only the Phoenix Suns (18-0), Charlotte (7-0) and Brooklyn Nets (15-1) have a better winning percentage in such games.

Maybe it was Morant's absence that forced the rest of the team to turn up the defensive pressure, but whatever the reason Taylor Jenkins' team now know they can win either with offense as they rank sixth in the league in scoring (111.0) as well as at the opposite end of the court.

Perhaps no victory was more indicative of what the Grizzlies can do than last Thursday's 108-95 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Despite missing Morant and starting guard Dillon Brooks (health and safety protocols), Memphis set a franchise record with nine steals in the second quarter en route to a season-high 18 and became just the second team in the past 13 games to hold star-laden Los Angeles under 100 points.

Several players have stepped up to fill the void left by Morant and none bigger than second-year guard Desmond Bane. A serious contender for the Most Improved Player award, Bane has taken a huge step forward in his sophomore season to become much more than a shooter with his usage rate going from 16.1 to 22.3 per cent.

In the nine games without Morant, Bane has averaged 17.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and shot 44.8 per cent from three-point range (26 for 58). He averaged 15.5 points and 3.8 rebounds while connecting on 37.4 per cent (46 for 123) from deep in the season's first 19 games. His points per game average has risen from 9.2 in 2020-21 to 16.0 this season – his plus-6.8 improvement only bettered by Reggie Jackson (+6.9), Miles Bridges (+7.1) and Tyrese Maxey (+8.7) among players to have played in 70 per cent of team games in both campaigns.

When a team's leading scorer misses time, the second-leading scorer is asked to pick up most of the slack and Jaren Jackson Jr. has answered that call.

During the 8-1 stretch, Jackson is scoring 21.1 per game on 50.4 per cent shooting, including 38.5 per cent (20 for 52) from beyond the arc. In 19 games played with Morant this term, Jackson averaged 14.8 points on 39.7 per cent from the field and 33.7 per cent from long range.

Jackson has scored 25 points or more in four of his last seven games after having only one such game through his first 20 this season.

With 25 points and five blocks in a win over the Toronto Raptors late last month, Jackson became just the third Grizzlies player to reach both those totals in a game since the team moved to Memphis. Pau Gasol (six games) and Marc Gasol (four games) are the only others.

Memphis' defensive improvement is clearly a team-wide concept, but Dillon Brooks may be the player most responsible. Brooks did not make his season debut until November 10 due to a broken left hand and the team clearly missed his intensity and leadership.

In 14 games this season with Brooks in the line-up, Memphis have surrendered 103.6 points per game and held opponents to 44.0 per cent shooting. In the 14 games he has missed, the Grizzlies have given up 114.9 points with opponents making 48.3 per cent of their shots.

Taking over at the point in Morant's place has been Tyus Jones, who had the best assist-to-turnover ratio in the league each of the last three seasons and is on his way to doing it again with 119 assists to 21 turnovers (5.67).

The biggest improvement in Jones' game has been his three-point shooting, making 40 percent of his first 65 attempts after he hit on just 32.1 per cent last season.

One area where Memphis have excelled all season is on the boards.

The Grizzlies rank third in the NBA in total rebounds (1,323) and tied for second in offensive rebounding (358). Steven Adams leads the way with 8.6 per game but gets plenty of help as Memphis are tied for second in the league with seven players averaging at least four boards per contest.

Those rebounds play a role in helping Memphis top the NBA in both second-chance points (479) and points in the paint (1,504).

With Phoenix and the Golden State Warriors looking like world beaters right now and the Utah Jazz not far behind, Memphis have been able to fly under the radar in the Western Conference.

While there is no telling how Morant's return will affect the Grizzlies, the team have done all the little things in his absence and that can only help them in their quest to finally hang a division championship banner at FedEx Forum.

Stephen Curry moved within two three-pointers of breaking Ray Allen's all-time NBA record as the Golden State Warriors edged the Indiana Pacers 102-100 on Monday.

Curry finished the game with 26 points including five triples to close in on Allen's record of 2,973 three-point attempts made. The two-time MVP will look to break the mark on Tuesday against the New York Knicks.

Domantas Sabonis scored 30 points with 11 rebounds for the Pacers, who led late before Curry, who shot at 33 percent from beyond the arc, hit his fifth three-point attempt to narrow the margin.

Curry had another attempt from beyond the arc rim out, with Kevin Looney's putback giving Golden State the lead with 13.4 seconds left.

Gary Payton II's defense on Caris LeVert forced a late turnover to seal the win for the Warriors who improve to 22-5, ahead of Curry's next attempt at breaking the record in New York.

 

Tatum downs depleted Bucks

Jayson Tatum hit seven three-pointers as he finished with 42 points in the Boston Celtics' 117-103 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks. The reigning champions lost Khris Middleton to a left knee hyper-extension in the third quarter, while Giannis Antetokounmpo was kept relatively quiet with 20 points, eight rebounds and three assists.

The Philadelphia 76ers missed Joel Embiid who was out with rib soreness, going down 126-91 to the Memphis Grizzlies, while reigning MVP Nikola Jokic led the Denver Nuggets past the Washington Wizards 113-107 with 28 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists.

Trae Young scored 41 points with nine assists but it could not prevent the Atlanta Hawks from losing 132-126 to the resurgent Houston Rockets. Eric Gordon netted 32 points for Houston who came from 19 points down with a 38-21 fourth quarter.

 

CP3 struggles as Suns stumble

Chris Paul could not find his stride against his former franchise, struggling for nine points shooting at under 30 percent with eight assists in the Phoenix Suns' 111-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. The Suns, who are 21-5, were without Deandre Ayton and Devin Booker.

Stephen Curry had a wayward shooting game but moved closer to Ray Allen's all-time record as the Golden State Warriors were humbled 102-93 by the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday.

Joel Embiid scored a game-high 26 points along with nine rebounds and four assists for the 76ers, who ended the game with a 41-20 run to improve their record to 15-12.

Curry, who started the game 10 triples away from Allen's all-time NBA record for most three-point attempts made, finished with 18 points including three triples.

As a result, two-time MVP Curry is seven three-pointers away from breaking Allen's mark of 2,973 career triples.

Curry drained two three-pointers late in the second quarter but did not add to his tally until the fourth quarter, shooting a disappointing three-of-14 from beyond the arc. The guard finished the game shooting 30 percent from the field.

 

Jokic stars but triple-double run ends

Reigning MVP Nikola Jokic's run of three straight triple-doubles ended but he still managed a double-double with 35 points and 17 rebounds in the Denver Nuggets' 127-112 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

Reggie Jackson hit a late two-pointer with 2.2 seconds left to lead the Los Angeles Clippers past the Orlando Magic 106-104, finishing the game with 25 points in Paul George's absence.

The Utah Jazz extended their winning streak to seven games as Donovan Mitchell had 28 points with Ruby Gobert grabbing another double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds in their 123-98 win over the Washington Wizards.

 

Turnovers cost Bulls vs Heat

Point guard Lonzo Ball committed five turnovers and only managed 15 points as the Chicago Bulls lost 118-92 to the Miami Heat. Zach LaVine was also guilty of four turnovers, although he finished with 33 points including seven three-pointers.

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