The Phoenix Suns have made the knockout round of the inaugural In-Season Tournament. But what does that mean, outside of no longer trying to explain to your family and friends why point differential is important? Let’s start from the beginning.
The IST has been an experiment by Adam Silver and the NBA as they attempt to accomplish multiple things simultaneously. November and December are the dead zone for the NBA, especially as it relates to the casual basketball consumer. The NFL dominates the airwaves during this timeframe, and even college football can distract sports fans from what the NBA is doing.
The start of the NBA season, typically through the first 20 games of the season, isn’t widely consumed by the public at large. In an attempt to change this, Adam Silver brought us the IST, which broke the league into six different groups and, on Tuesdays and Fridays in November, all games counted towards group stage standings. Teams that won their group, plus one additional “wild card” team — the team with the best non-group winning record and highest point differential — would advance to the knockout round.
In case you weren’t sure whether or not you were watching an IST game, the league designed differing courts that made sure you knew you were watching something different. Oh, and they were some interesting designs.
Next season, the @NBA In-Season Tournament courts should be green screen colored. Then give viewers the option of changing the court to a plethora of options. Fire, ice, football fields, the floor is lava…so many options!— John Voita (@DarthVoita) November 29, 2023
And we’ll all choose “normal NBA court”.
The Suns did not win their group as they ended with a 3-1 record in their four group-stage games. Their only loss was to the Los Angeles Lakers, a team they were up on by 14 points at one point in the game, but lost 122-119 on November 10. The Suns did however end with the highest point differential of non-group winners, ending with a +34 in four games played.
So Phoenix is in. What’s next?
The Suns play tonight against the Lakers in Los Angeles, with the winner advancing to the IST Semi-Finals, which take place in Las Vegas on Thursday. The Lakers have defeated the Suns twice thus far this season, winning the aforementioned IST game as well as the second game of the season, winning 100-95.
The Suns did not have Devin Booker in either game.
The winner of tonight’s game advances to play the New Orleans Pelicans. who downed the Scartmaneto Kings last night in Sac Town. No beam was lit as it was the third time NOP had defeated the Kings this season. Let’s hope that the same trend does not carry into tonight’s game and that Phoenix can enact revenge on their Pacific Division rival.
On the other side of the bracket in the Eastern Conference, the Boston Celtics lost to the Indiana Pacers last night. Raise your hand if you’ve watched Indiana play. Unless you are an NBA League Pass junkie, probably not. The team has just one nationally televised game scheduled this season. Tyrese Haliburton is doing special things for the Pacers as he is averaging 27 points and a league-best 11.8 assists. Oh, what might have been...
The New York Knicks, who are the wild card in the east, face the new-look Milwaukee Bucks tonight before the Suns/Lakers game. The 14-6 Bucks have an explosive offense, especially after adding seven-time All-Star Damian Lillard. Their defense is suspect, but if you enter clutch-time minutes with them, seeing as they have Dame Time and the Greek Freak, they are hard to beat.
The IST has for the most part been met with positive results. While the financial incentive of $500k for each member of the winning team seems to be enough to motivate players, the incentive to drive up point differentials created a unique brand of basketball. No matter what the score was, if a team (such as the Suns) knew they needed more points, they continued to try to score. That alone was a fun wrinkle that has been a byproduct of the IST.
Good morning.— PHNX Suns (@PHNX_Suns) November 25, 2023
Remember that time Devin Booker's banked-in 3 on their final possession against Memphis wound up giving the Suns a 1-point edge over NOLA in point differential for a wild card spot in the NBA's In-Season Tournament? pic.twitter.com/QfVp6FPm08
The spotlight it has created on the NBA during the early part of the season has been well received. Even my wife knew something was different when she walked in while I was watching a non-Suns game one night. “Ooo, I like the court”. She might be the only one, but it opened the door for dialogue about what the IST is.
For those teams that lost last night and tonight, an additional game will be scheduled. Yes, these games still count towards your regular season record, and with the game scheduled for tomorrow, Phoenix currently has 81 games on its schedule. Their next game will most likely be scheduled for this weekend, and I assume it will be against the loser of the Kings.
All other NBA teams' schedules filled up after not making the IST knockout round.
Time will determine if any changes are required or if the tournament as is. For now, we buckle up and wait to see what happens next. Let us know below whether or not you’ve enjoyed it and how engaged you’d be if the Suns weren’t in the tourney.