Mission accomplished. The NBA In-Season Tournament has added all the drama to the regular season the NBA was hoping for, and it hasn’t even hit the knockout round yet.
The tournament’s group stage concluded Tuesday, and there were some real stakes on the line. Not only were teams trying to clinch quarterfinal spots with wins, the scoring margin tiebreaker meant some of them needed to win — or not lose — by a certain amount.
In the best game of the night, the Golden State Warriors, needing to win by at least 12 points to advance, blew a 24-point lead to lose to the Sacramento Kings, who only needed to not lose by 12-plus to advance. With everything on the line for both teams, the game had real playoff intensity, in November!
However, the tiebreaker also led to some awkward moments, as teams tried to run up scores in situations they would typically take their foot off the gas. The Boston Celtics took to intentionally fouling Andre Drummond while already leading 32 points in the fourth quarter, a tactic that led Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan to approach Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla mid-game.
Celtics were intentionally fouling Andre Drummond while up 32 POINTS with 7:02 in the 4Q
Joe Mazzulla had to explain to Billy Donovan they needed to win by 23 to have a chance to advance 😂 pic.twitter.com/4rEoWvHfus
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 29, 2023
Donovan’s frustration came just two games after DeMar DeRozan was ejected for taking offense to the Toronto Raptors running up the score on Chicago.
It’s not lost on me. The Bulls are a really bad team with nothing to play for. Their frustration level is higher than most. It makes them a perfect example of the adjustment period that’s taking place in the inaugural year of the tournament for everyone involved. Not enough players have fully embraced the tournament or familiarized themselves with the rules, and that needs to change, because it’s been a huge success.
from players wondering why their bench is yelling to score at end of blowouts, to Memphis crowd tonight, now this in Toronto: there continues to be confusion across the NBA why teams arent dribbling out the clock. DeRozan tilts here, Rajakovic tells him “in-season tournament!” pic.twitter.com/YoPcMKnWyu
— Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) November 25, 2023
Even players on winning teams have been uncomfortable with what they needed to do. Josh Hart said running up the score messes with the “integrity” of the league, after his New York Knicks qualified for a tournament spot with a big win over the Charlotte Hornets. Donovan Mitchell had similar sentiments after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat up on the Atlanta Hawks.
Like it or not, players and coaches should all get more familiar and comfortable with the difference in tournament play going forward. Not only is the point-margin rule an easy way to choose who advances, it’s contributed to what’s been an entertaining product. That’s exactly what the NBA wanted.