Boston Celtics, Indiana Pacers Show In-Season Tournament Is No Joke

Jrue Holiday

Getty Boston Celtics guard Jrue Holiday is guarded by Tyrese Haliburton of the Indiana Pacers on December 4, 2023.

Some have scoffed at the notion that the NBA In-Season Tournament has any added value. Don’t tell the Boston Celtics or Indiana Pacers that.

In a game that had a playoff-like atmosphere for 48 minutes, the teams battled through 14 lead changes on Monday, December 14, before the Pacers broke free in the fourth quarter to escape with a 122-112 victory. The Pacers head to Las Vegas to play in the semifinals of the tourney.

The Boston Celtics Never Held Back During the In-Season Tournament

Some have claimed the inaugural November tourney has made a mockery of the game. Where else would you see teams ahead by 30 points in the third quarter intentionally hacking poor foul shooters in order to run up the score?

Such is life in the new NBA.

In an effort to shoot some juice into typically lackluster November games, the NBA started the tourney to give teams something else to play for. With only four games deciding which teams win their respective groups and advance in the tourney, point differential was a key tiebreaker.

After losing to the Orlando Magic, an East Group C foe, the Celtics had their backs against the wall. Against the Chicago Bulls on November 28, the Celtics needed to win and win big to have any shot of advancing in the tournament.

That’s when Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla played hack-a-Shaq with Chicago’s Andre Drummond, with the Celtics ahead by 30 points in the third quarter. Boston went on to win 124-97 and advanced to the quarterfinals of the tourney.

Even Celtics guard Jrue Holiday found the whole game “weird.”

“It is a little weird,” Holiday told Abby Chin of NBC Sports after the win. “I guess there are some things I don’t agree with, but I also know there’s rules. We also want to win, make the tournament, and have the best seed that we can.”

There’s Plenty at Stake in the In-Season Tournament

The Celtics have gone all-out so far in the NBA In-Season Tournament, and why not? Each member of the championship team will take home $500,000. While that might not mean much to stars like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, it’s certainly an incentive for many others.

Before Monday’s matchup with the Pacers, Celtics guard Derrick White said there is plenty to play for, and he’s eager to bring home a December championship.

“I think everybody’s pretty excited about it,” White said, per MassLive. “It’s a little different and something that’s never done before. Especially this quarterfinal, I think everyone’s looking forward to it and we’re trying to go out to Indiana, get a tough road win and hope to go to Vegas. Now that it’s here, I think everybody’s looking forward to it and excited about it.”

Former Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell said that even though the big Celtics stars might not care about the cash, they know their less-financially-stable teammates do.

“The $500,000,” Maxwell said on the Cedric Maxwell Podcast. “That doesn’t mean a lot to those top six players on your team. It doesn’t really change their perspective.

“But I think they are also playing for those bottom guys. Payton Pritchard said, ‘Man, I got a wedding coming up.’ I think players are excited for the other players who don’t have that money. It gives them an extra incentive to maybe do something for their teammates.”

Instead, it’s the Pacers players who could be counting all that new-found money. Maxwell said the tournament also can be a confidence builder for any team, something the Pacers need if they want to make some real noise in the postseason.

“I think what it does is helps build your confidence for later in the playoffs,” he said.

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