NBA regular season unlike any other ending with thrillers, blowouts and shifting standings

CLEVELAND — It took 82 games and five more minutes to determine the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, and a playoff team with nothing to gain Sunday completely set itself up for a team first place in the West can emerge.

In an unprecedented final day of the NBA regular season, with more up for grabs in both conferences in Game 82 than at any time in the league’s 77-year history, the Knicks New York defeated the Chicago Bulls in overtime 120-119 to claim second place in the East.

And in the West, as the Oklahoma City Thunder defeated the completely depleted Dallas Mavericks 135-86, the Thunder emerged from a three-way tie with the Denver Nuggets and Minnesota Timberwolves to earn the top seed #1. With an average age of just under 24, OKC is the youngest first-place team in league history.

The Nuggets, 2023 NBA champions, also won on Sunday and finished second; the Timberwolves lost to the Phoenix Suns and fell to third place. The Suns, with their victory and the New Orleans Pelicans’ defeat against the Los Angeles Lakers, rank sixth in the West.

While the Thunder (the league’s second-youngest team, five years removed from a franchise reset) and Nuggets await their first-round Play-In opponents, No. 3 Minnesota hosts No. 6 Phoenix next weekend, and #4 LA. The Clippers host No. 5 Dallas.

The Pelicans and Suns both entered Sunday with a shot at sixth place, and only one game separated No. 8 (Lakers) from No. 10 (Golden State Warriors).
The West Play-In will feature a rematch of Sunday’s Pelicans-Lakers game in Game 7-8, with the winner advancing to face the Nuggets. The Sacramento Kings will host the Warriors in Play-In Nos. 9-10.

In the East, the Orlando Magic, Indiana Pacers and Philadelphia 76ers also won on Sunday, while the Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks lost in embarrassing fashion.

As a result, some Eastern first round matchups are: No. 5 Orlando at No. 4 Cleveland and No. 6 Indiana at No. 3 Milwaukee.

The No. 7 Sixers will host No. 8 Miami in a Play-In tournament game, with the winner advancing to face No. 2 New York in a first-round series. The Boston Celtics, who finished with a 14-game lead in the East, the largest lead over a second-place team since the NBA-ABA merger in 1976, await the winner of the Play-In final (Miami loser -Philly against winner of No. 10 Atlanta-No. 9 Chicago).

The Lakers-Pelicans and Kings-Warriors clashes are scheduled for Tuesday; the 76ers-Heat and Bulls-Hawks games will take place Wednesday.

If the Masters is a tournament like no other, well, the same could be said of this end-of-season day in the NBA.

It was the first time in league history that in 81 games, three teams had the same record with a chance of finishing first in the conference. Also on that side of the draw, only the Clippers (No. 4) and Mavericks (No. 5) were guaranteed to stay in the spot they held for 81 games – which is why Dallas sat Luka Dončić , Kyrie Irving, Maxi Kleber, Derek Lively II and others in the blowout loss to the Thunder.

All 30 teams played on Sunday. At the end of the day, there were 18 teams with at least a .500 mark – another league record.

Sunday started with the Bucks, Knicks and Cavs all with a chance at the No. 2 seed. Milwaukee faded down the stretch (14-12 since the All-Star break) and struggled under new coach Doc Rivers, and pulled its starters in the fourth quarter of an eventual loss 113 -88 at the hands of the Magic – who would have fallen to the Play-In with a defeat. A win and the Bucks would have taken second place. Giannis Antetokounmpo did not play due to a calf injury he suffered last week.

“Indiana has had our number all year, so a perfect opponent,” Bucks coach Doc Rivers said. “Look, we have to play someone, and he’s a tough guy. They played well against us. They probably have a lot of confidence against us. We will be very focused because we are going to have to do it.

In Cleveland, where the Cavs were second in the East at the All-Star break only to go 12-17, Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert and Darius Garland all held off the Charlotte Hornets, who dressed just nine players and a rotation player. But early in the first quarter, the Cavs’ only ballhandler in uniform, Craig Porter Jr., sprained his ankle and was unable to return. The Cavs led by 13 early in the fourth, when coach JB Bickerstaff pulled most of his remaining rotation players, and Cleveland closed with a lineup in which its only offense appeared to be Tristan Thompson — yes, Tristan Thompson — trying to put the ball. the ground to make things happen.

Even against a lineup of late-game benches and G Leaguers, like the one the Hornets had on the court at the end, such a stupid idea wouldn’t work. The Cavs lost 120-110 in Hornets coach Steve Clifford’s last game and were heartily booed by the home fans in the final moments.

“It was tough (to watch), but we had our plan in place with what we were going to do with our guys,” Bickerstaff said afterward. “(Our starters) were going to play those three quarters, and then Craig not being there made it a little difficult to organize and score in the fourth quarter, but we wanted to stick to our plan, and no matter what happened we were going to give our guys the opportunity to play.

With a win, the Cavs would have overtaken the Bucks for third place and avoided the Celtics until a potential conference finals game. The Knicks, meanwhile, received 40 points from All-Star Jalen Brunson and 25 points from Donte DiVincenzo, who played all 53 minutes of the game. Clearly, second place meant more to some teams than others.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver sought to make this regular season more meaningful and say what you want about each particular method he chose, but he got the desired end result. Silver created a new tournament, required players to miss fewer games, and, with player agreement, changed the rules to encourage greater participation. He also asked the players to try harder during the All-Star Game.

“I don’t know if it’s because of all the changes during the season or whatever, or if it’s because I think the league is in a really good place in terms of talent depth.” , Bickerstaff said. “I think the level of competition up and down the league is so good now and so well balanced that the matches are more engaging.”

The in-season tournament was a success in every way. The championship featured LeBron James and the Lakers, and given Los Angeles’ proximity to Las Vegas, where the tournament’s semifinals and finals were held, attendance was expected to be plentiful. The title game, won by Los Angeles against the Pacers, was the most-watched non-Christmas NBA regular season game since 2018.


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The league’s new rules aimed at limiting load management and increasing the number of stars playing in nationally televised games sparked controversy, mainly because one rule tied honors such as MVP to the number of games played, but overall, more of the NBA’s top players were in attendance. court more often.

For example, among all the league’s perennial MVP candidates, only reigning MVP Embiid failed to reach the 65-game minimum to qualify, and the others finished by a comfortable margin. Far more of the league’s top 50 scorers have played in at least 80 percent of games this season than last. Additionally, among the top 10 MVP votes last season, only two players appeared in more than 70 games.

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The All-Star Game, well, both teams paid so little attention to it that an All-Star record for total points in a game was broken.

But Silver’s other two initiatives worked, and here he was at the end of his 10th season at the helm, presiding over a final day of a regular season in which there was more to gain than in any previous season. last previous day in league history.

(Top photo by Donte DiVincenzo: Elsa/Getty Images)

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