The NBA’s in-season tournament made its much-awaited debut and the first slate of games played on the all new courts lived up to the hype.
Five out of the seven contests finished with a winning margin of less than five points, including two which came down to the last possession.
One of these two tight games was the Golden State Warriors’ 141-139 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder where Stephen Curry hit a controversial lay-up at the buzzer to take the win. Curry’s shot was initially ruled out due to goaltending, but the referees overruled the call on the floor after their review.
The nine-time NBA All-Star finished with 30 points, five-three pointers, eight rebounds, seven assists, and two steals for the Warriors who improved to 5-1 on the season. The win also gave Golden State the early lead in West Group C of the in-season tournament where they are joined by the Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves, Sacramento Kings, and San Antonio Spurs.
The other game that was decided at the buzzer was the match between the Brooklyn Nets and the Chicago Bulls. Brooklyn managed to escape with a 109-107 victory as Zach Lavine’s potential game-winning three-pointer missed before time expired. This win marked the third consecutive win for the Nets who have bounced back strong from their 0-2 start. These two teams are joined by the Boston Celtics, Toronto Raptors, and Orlando Magic in East Group C.
The Portland Trail Blazers and the Memphis Grizzlies capped off the evening with another tight contest that went into overtime. Portland pulled off a 115-113 win after Shaedon Sharpe’s two free throws late in the fourth quarter tied the game to force the extra period. The Blazers now have an early lead in West Group A where they are joined by the Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns, and Utah Jazz.
The reigning NBA champion Denver Nuggets also suited up on the first day of the in-season tournament as they faced Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. Denver was the only team to win their game by double digits as they pulled away in the first quarter and did not look back en route to a 125-114 victory. Nikola Jokic led the Nuggets with 33 points, 14 rebounds, nine assists, one steal, and one block as he outdueled Doncic who tallied 34 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. Denver and Dallas are joined by the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, and New Orleans Pelicans in West Group B.
Earlier in the evening, the Indiana Pacers topped the Cleveland Cavaliers, 121-116, in the first game of the in-season tournament. Six different players scored at least 13 points for Indiana, led by veteran center Myles Turner who had 27 points, four three-pointers, nine rebounds, two steals, and two blocks. The Pacers improved to 3-2 on the season and are currently in a five-way tie for third place in the revitalized Eastern Conference. They are in East Group A for the in-season tourney where they are joined by the Cavs, Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons, and Philadelphia 76ers.
The only group that had four teams play on opening day of the in-season tournament was East Group B. The Miami Heat beat the Washington Wizards, 121-114, while the Milwaukee Bucks held off the New York Knicks, 110-105. These teams are joined in East Group B by the Charlotte Hornets.
It was a much needed win for the Heat who are only 2-4 so far this season. Meanwhile, the Bucks improved to 3-2 as Giannis Antetokounmpo and their star offseason acquisition Damian Lillard continue to build chemistry.
With the in-season tournament now in full swing, it will be fascinating to see if the bi-weekly games can bring this level of competitiveness on a consistent basis. These six groups will play in a round robin tournament on Tuesdays and Fridays this November before the top four teams from each conference advance to the single-elimination tournament. This in-season tournament will be capped off by the semifinal and final rounds which will be played in Las Vegas this coming December.
The hype is still building up for the league’s latest innovation and it will be interesting to see if this format turns out to be a success. For the fans, this adds an exciting new layer to the regular season, but ultimately, it will be up to the players to decide on whether or not this will stick. If they play these in-season tournament games with similar intensity to how they handle postseason games, the fanfare should follow and this could become another staple in the ever-growing NBA.