By TIM REYNOLDS – AP Basketball Author
Patrick Beverley jumped onto a table, then opened a postgame beer for the whole world to see and used so many swear words the league fined him $30,000. Clint Capela was so overjoyed that he slapped his chest a few times. Miles Bridges momentarily lost control of his emotions and threw his mouthpiece.
The NBA says the playoffs start on Saturday.
Technically that is correct. It’s also anything but the truth. You have already started. The emotions of this week alone prove that.
There are eight different Game 1s on this weekend’s NBA schedule. Game 1 is nice, but a team’s season doesn’t end on Saturday or Sunday. And nothing happening in those games this weekend will match the drama the league offered at the start of Tuesday and Wednesday’s play-in tournaments, and more drama is sure to come as the final games of the play-in round to take place on Friday.
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There were essentially two games on Wednesday 7 – Atlanta finished Charlotte’s season, New Orleans finished San Antonio’s season. Bridges threw his mouthpiece as he left the court after being ejected and the mouthguard hit a young girl.
“I took aim at a guy who was yelling at me,” Bridges said, calling his actions unacceptable and saying he will accept any sanction the NBA sends him. He also wants to reach out to the girl and apologize, he said.
There is no justification for what he did and he made no attempt to justify his actions. He has never thrown anything into the crowd, he said. But the playoffs were at stake and he lost his head.
“I certainly apologize,” Bridges said.
And on Friday two more games await 7 – Atlanta plays in Cleveland for the No. 8 in the Eastern Conference, New Orleans visits the Clippers for No. 8 in the West.
“I mean, it was incredible,” Minnesota coach Chris Finch said of the atmosphere at Tuesday’s game at the Timberwolves’ home stadium against the Clippers. “When you went out for the jump ball, you could tell right away it was going to be an electric night. Crowd was in from jump. … it was unreal.”
In other words, it felt like the playoffs.
That’s because it’s basically about the playoffs.
Statistically, the NBA separates the regular season, the play-in tournament, and the postseason. For record-keeping purposes, the all-time lists only consider regular season numbers — otherwise LeBron James would have already overtaken Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the league’s all-time top scorer, which won’t officially happen until the middle of next season if James is healthy.
And the playoffs are a 16-team tournament, not a 20-team tournament. Finch didn’t add a playoff win to his record Tuesday in the eyes of the league. which is ok It won’t be forgotten, but it doesn’t count.
But the play-in has teams playing for their playoff lives. It’s a Game 7 feel. Game 7 does not take place in the regular season. Bridges almost certainly wouldn’t have lost their heads if this had been a throwaway game in January.
There are big NBA games all season, sure, but no win-or-go home moments until this time of year. More will follow in the next two months, but there are no guarantees of Game 7 in the playoffs.
The play-in makes them automatically.
The play-in tournament was not universally popular when NBA Commissioner Adam Silver first proposed the idea. It got off to a somewhat shaky start, introduced in the reboot bubble at Walt Disney World two years ago to make up for the fact that a full 82-game season would not be played.
Portland surpassed Memphis in that first play-in game at a gym that didn’t have any fans from the public — it was the bubble, remember — but was still jam-packed with players from other teams just being there and the wanted to experience atmosphere. It was loud, there was cheering, and a mid-August Saturday afternoon made it clear that the NBA had found the perfect crease to serve as a precursor to Round 1 in the coming Aprils.
James wasn’t always a fan of the format. “Whoever came up with this… should be fired,” he once famously said. That was before the Los Angeles Lakers needed the play-in to make the playoffs last year and before the Lakers didn’t even qualify for the play-in this year.
James was wrong about that attitude. And while Silver just confirmed the play-in will stay here, it’s still not officially official. It will be soon enough.
“What we’re seeing is a far greater impact essentially in the final month of the season where teams are either struggling to get into the play-in tournament itself or getting out of the play-in with a pinned sixth Tournament coming out seeds,” Silver said last week. “We are happy with that. It may be necessary to optimize it additionally. We’ll see how it goes this year but I think it’s going to become a staple in this league.”
As it should. Because it works.
Tim Reynolds is a national basketball writer for The Associated Press. Write to him at treynolds(at)ap.org
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