For the past decade, the executives have been trying to make the NBA product more interesting to fans in order to increase viewership. They debated about changing the NBA Playoff structure, they felt the need to tweak the All Star Saturday Night by adjusting the 3Pt Contest to include more money balls, and made more changes to the Slam Dunk Contest than I feel like writing about…none of which have made it anymore exciting. Basically, you’ve had some random executives trying to leave their legacy on the league by changing things that don’t need changing. Hell, some suit tried to change the ball itself and nearly had a riot on their hands from the players.
Most recently, the NBA incorporated the “Play-in Tournament”, and finally, the league executives got something right!! I’ll be the first to admit that I had my doubts when I first heard of this idea. The concept of a mini-tournament to decide the final two teams to make each conference tournament seemed gimmicky, but the NBA knocked this out of the ballpark…or should I say arena. For those who don’t know how it works, I’ll give a quick explanation. To start, the 7 seed plays the 8 seed, and the 9th seed plays the 10th seed. The winner of the 7/8 game automatically gets locked into the 7th seed and gets the play the 2nd overall seed in the conference tournament. Then, the loser of the 7/8 seed, plays the winner of the 9/10 game to lock in the 8th seed, and gets to play the 1 seed.
I still can’t believe I’m saying this, but this was a genius move by the NBA because it allows more teams to be involved in the playoff chase, and it encourages teams in the 6-12 seed range to stay competitive in order ensure they have the best odds for when the playoffs begin. And of course in its inaugural year, the NBA couldn’t have gotten luckier than having the Lebron’s Lakers and Steph Curry’s Warriors match up in the 7-8 game for the Western Conference. You have the two most high profile players in the league playing for a spot in the playoffs, in the first year of this concept. I’m not much for conspiracies, but I wouldn’t be surprised in Adam Silver was the reason Lebron missed so much time down the stretch (kidding obviously). And after their matchup tonight, the Lakers will players the Suns in the 2-7 matchup and the Warriors now play the Grizzlies on Friday for the right to take on the Jazz in the 1-8 matchup.
Besides the extra basketball we get to watch, I love the “play-in” concept because I think it provides the underdog with an advantage of pulling off the upset. It sounds odd, but the teams in the play-in series already have the playoff nerves out of their system. They’ve already played a game and know what’s at stake. Look no further to the Eastern Conference where after beating the Wizards on Tuesday, the Celtics have earned the right to take on the Nets. The Big 3 of the Nets have yet the play a truly meaningful game together while the Jaylen Brown-less Celtics already have their first win without him under their belt. Sure the Celtics have been up and down all year, but when a game truly counted, they beat the hell out of the Wizards.
So why do I love this new “Play-in” tournament, well I think it gives the underdog a small advantage and it’s extra basketball and at the end of the day, that’s what makes playoff basketball so special. And hopefully it gives my Celtics a little bit of an edge of those clowns in Brooklyn who tried to make a super team but failed to realize nobody can stay healthy.