THE final day of group play in the inaugural NBA in-season tournament brought the scoreboard-watching and tiebreaker drama the league was hoping for so many months ago.
The end result worked out into the following quarterfinals:
East No. 3 Boston Celtics at East No. 2 Indiana Pacers, 7:30 p.m. ET Monday (TNT)
West No. 3 New Orleans Pelicans at West No. 2 Sacramento Kings, 10 p.m. ET Monday (TNT)
East No. 4 New York Knicks at East No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks, 7:30 p.m. ET Tuesday (TNT)
West No. 4 Phoenix Suns at West No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers, 10 p.m. ET Tuesday (TNT)
The semi-finals and finals are scheduled for December 7 and 9 in Las Vegas. All games, save for the final, will count toward regular-season records, with a US$500 000 payout going to every player and coach on the winning team. All quarterfinal teams are guaranteed payouts of at least US$50 000.
The Celtics entered Tuesday with a simple directive: Beat the Chicago Bulls as hard as humanly possible. With a point differential of zero and a three-way tie with the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets likely, Boston needed a blowout of the Bulls to top the idle Magic’s +22 margin.
The game started fairly even, then the Celtics continued to build a huge lead. They were up by 11 by the end of the first quarter, up by 19 at halftime, then broke through with a big third-quarter for a 124-97 win. That 27-point differential singlehandedly lifted the Celtics past Orlando.
Meanwhile, the Nets beat the Toronto Raptors, but by little enough that they finished behind the Magic.
The Bucks took care of business against a Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat to improve their record to 4-0 and take East Group B, though the Heat made things difficult at times. Miami led by three points midway through the fourth quarter, but a quick 7-0 run gave Milwaukee the distance it needed.
Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard had one of their best games yet together, combining for 65 points and 14 assists. It was Khris Middleton, however, who had the biggest basket:
The Knicks were watching that Bucks-Heat game with great interest, as a Heat win would have handed them a group win. The Knicks improved their point differential to +42 with a blowout win over the Charlotte Hornets, but they ended up having to settle for the East wild card.
The nightcap served up the kind of intrigue that can only be found in group play tiebreakers. Whereas the Celtics took their group against a team with nothing to play for, the Kings and Golden State Warriors very much had something to play for, and both teams, and the fans, knew it.
The Warriors entered the game needing to win by 12 to take Group C. The Kings only needed to win or lose by 11 or less. It was all Golden State to begin, with the Warriors leading by as much as 24 points late in the second quarter. The Kings responded with a furious second-half comeback, first erasing the group-clinching margin, then taking the win outright as the Golden 1 Center crowd went wild.
The Pelicans clinched West Group B thanks to a loss by the Houston Rockets, who needed a 17-point win over the Dallas Mavericks to advance.
The Pacers and Lakers were the first teams to clinch knockout spots, with both teams finishing with 4-0 records Friday. The Pacers rode NBA in-season tourney MVP favorite Tyrese Haliburton to dramatic wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers in East Group A, while the Lakers coasted in an unusually weak West Group A, which featured three of the bottom four teams in the Western Conference.
That group also benefited the Suns, who clinched the West wild card Tuesday via a +34-point differential. (Yahoo Sports)