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Josh Hart: ‘I don’t like’ point-differential tiebreaker for in-season tournament

Josh Hart Knicks

(Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Josh Hart NBA
The NBA’s In-Season Tournament will continue on Dec. 4. But multiple players expressed their thoughts on the tiebreaker rules. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Josh Hart: ‘I don’t like’ point-differential tiebreaker for in-season tournament

The NBA’s first-ever group stage for the in-season tournament concluded Tuesday. For the most part, the tournament was a success in terms of the increased ratings on Tuesday and Friday night tournament games, as well as increased intensity from players, during the three-and-a-half week group stage.

To give you an introduction to what the In-Season Tournament was: All 30 NBA teams were divided into six groups–three apiece (five teams each) across each conference–and the winners of those six groups plus one wild card team from each conference advanced to the final eight, which will begin Dec. 4.

The main tiebreaker–after head-to-head–was point differential, which caused some controversy because it compromises the “integrity” of the game in terms of running up the score. The New York Knicks were placed in that particular instance Tuesday.

Entering Tuesday 2-1 in the group stage, it was one game behind the Milwaukee Bucks and tied with the Miami Heat for the group lead; the Knicks had to beat the Hornets by at least six points to put itself in the best position to compete for a Wild Card (at minimum) ahead of Miami, who was trying to knock-off the unbeaten Bucks.

New York ultimately blew out the Hornets by 24–115-91–while Milwaukee beat Miami by seven to win Group B of the Eastern Conference. So it ultimately didn’t matter that much in this isolated instance.

But the concept of needing to win by a certain amount of points to advance was a concept that no team has had to consider before, and Knicks wing Josh Hart wasn’t the biggest fan of it.

“It was interesting. I don’t really like it,” he said. “We were focused, at first, just about winning. The last couple of minutes it feels weird. At a certain point, you just start chasing points, doing all that. So it kind of messes with the integrity of the game a little bit.”

Hart isn’t alone; Jrue Holiday recently spoke out against it, as have Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Bam Adebayo, among plenty others. Donovan Mitchell was among the many players outspoken about trying to balance integrity and doing what’s best for the team.

“I feel like we were all trying to score but also respect the game,” he said. “So it’s different, especially when they took their starters out, you’re trying to balance it. But at the end of the day, you’re playing to win.

“You’re playing to get to Vegas, get to the tournament. But it’s definitely a little weird.”

There’s definitely a balance players must have; it’s the first year of the tournament, and while the early returns were very positive, it’s not perfect. Whether the game’s integrity matters to fans or not–it matters to players and coaches.

I’m not sure how–or even if–the league will choose to amend this rule. The following tiebreakers after head-to-head and point differential are: Total points scored, regular season record from the previous season and random drawing.

If it was total points instead of point differential, you’d see scores/pace akin to the Pacers-Hawks explosion we saw last week just to see who scores the most points; if it was the previous season’s record … wait, why is that a tiebreaker over the current season‘s record? That feels like it matters more in the present.

Anyway, perhaps the NBA could amend this tiebreaker policy in the future, even though it’s unclear what the alternative(s) would be. The league has something here, but it’s fixable … and Josh Hart agrees.

***

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