Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

Seattle University's student newspaper since 1933

The Spectator

[OPINION] The NBA’s In-Season Tournament Has Been… Interesting

Natalie Schorr

With bright alternative courts, a new trophy and a final game held in Las Vegas, the National Basketball Association’s (NBA) inaugural In-Season Tournament (IST) promised to add a new and exciting fold to the 82-game regular season this year. And with the viewership numbers it has produced thus far, it’s fair to characterize it as a success.

Roughly, the idea behind the IST is to turn designated early-year regular season games into playoff games. Although the games don’t have any additional actual playoff considerations for April, a cash prize of $500,000 is on the line for each player on the winning team.

The motivation to push harder in IST settings is obvious. But the added considerations of a tournament that takes place during the regular season have had some peculiar effects on the viewing experience. And by the end of the year, in a league of razor-thin margins, those considerations may be the difference between who makes and misses the real playoffs.

The Golden State Warriors had to win their final group stage game by more than 12 against the Sacramento Kings Nov. 28 to advance in the IST, with point differential being essential in tiebreaker scenarios. Outside the IST, they were sitting at 8-9 on the regular season. Golden State needed a win badly. But even though they were up late in the game and in a good position to win the contest, there was added pressure to prevail by the necessary margin. 

That pressure showed.

While up three points late in the game with time on the shot clock, Warriors forward Draymond Green hoisted a 3-point shot and missed. Green, a below average 3-point shooter, would have never taken a shot in that scenario if there weren’t additional ramifications to winning by just a slim margin. He would’ve simply held onto the ball and waited for the off-ball savvy of Golden State to generate an open look late in the clock, like he’s done before. After all, in the NBA, a win is a win—you’re supposed to take them however they come.

Green’s aggressive decision to hoist it was essentially the opposite of that mindset. The result? A Kings comeback victory. Sacramento guard Malik Monk hit a game-winner with under 10 seconds remaining, time that could have been salted away had Golden State’s vision not been sullied by thoughts of advancing in the IST.

Green, who appeared in the league’s initial advertising campaign for the IST, is a vocal proponent of the tournament. He even praised the league in a postgame interview with reporters earlier in the month for how the tournament has been implemented. Green said that there are “dark days in November,” and added that attaching exciting stipulations to regular season contests can combat the general apathy toward those lower-stakes games.

Green’s sentiments are turning out to be well-founded. According to Sports Business Journal, IST games from Fridays in November this year averaged 24% more viewers than normal games from those same time slots last season. There is a clear level of interest in the IST and even with some of the rash decision-making Green displayed against the Kings, there is no doubt that it makes for an entertaining product.

At other times, not so much.

On that same night, Chicago Bulls head coach Billy Donovan was visibly upset with the Boston Celtics for intentionally fouling Chicago center Andre Drummond while up 30 points in an IST game. The classic cheap tactic, dubbed the “Hack-a-Shaq” for its initial use on Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal, puts a horrid free throw shooter at the line as a way of stealing possessions in a tight contest. But this was no nail-biter. Up 30, the Celtics were considering how they had to win the game by more than 23 points to advance in the tournament.

The only issue was the game had essentially been over for a quarter already, so the optics of them trying every possible method to extend a game as if they were down in it was quite peculiar to see.

My take?

Even with the odd circumstances, the IST has undeniably brought excitement to the regular season. Although every game counts already, it’s not unreasonable for a fan to lose interest in the monotony of an 82-game season. Adding some stakes to games early in the season was a reasonable decision for the NBA to make, and the fan viewership seems to support their hopes.

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About the Contributors
Qasim Ali, Sports & Opinion Editor
Natalie Schorr, Social Media Manager

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