By Anish Dhondi
The NBA Play-In Tournament was a topic that led to mixed feelings throughout the season from fans and even players, but it turned out to be a huge success. The Play-In games got excellent TV ratings, most notably Lakers-Warriors, which drew 5.6 million viewers. Bringing playoff-level intensity before the Playoffs begin, plus having players such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry playing, brought in tons of fans from all around the world to watch. The Play-In tournament itself proved its worth because, in reality, it has always been necessary. Too often, we see 9th and 10th seeds in conferences miss the Playoffs due to a record tiebreaker or just a few games difference, but allowing them to get two wins in a row to make the Playoffs, and prove how good of a team they can be, is what the NBA needed to see.
For example, in the Eastern Conference this season, the Pacers and Wizards finished with the same record. In this case, the Wizards take the tiebreaker and have the 8th seed while the Pacers fall to 9th, sending the Pacers to their couches for the Playoffs, not giving them a chance to compete for the Playoffs, which some may say is unfair. The Hornets, who were the 10th-seed in the Eastern Conference, were just one game behind the Pacers, so for them to be so close yet still get the chance proved the fairness of the Play-In Tournament itself.
Another huge incentive for all is that it prevents tanking, a topic that has been talked about for the past few seasons. The top teams in each conference have to get a top-6 seed, the 10-seed can make Playoffs, therefore lowering their Draft pick if they do make it, and only 10 teams out of the 30 in the NBA have no chance of making the Playoffs. The Play-In Tournament allows our fans to have six more high-stakes loser home games (7th vs. 8th, 9th vs. 10th, winners of those play each other, making for three games per conference). The only real flaw of the Play-In Tournament is that star players can get hurt and miss the Playoffs, yet we were fortunate enough to avoid that this season. Those unfortunate scenarios are just a part of the game that no one can avoid, as there simply is no way to avoid it.
The general NBA fanbase was in favor of the Play-In Tournament until the Warriors were knocked out by the Grizzlies in their second Play-In Game. However, NBA fans missed out on the good side of this scenario, which was that the Warriors and Grizzlies had a difference of just one win separating them in the regular season standings, but with the spotlight on them, the underdog Grizzlies fought harder and took their place and earned the 8-seed in the NBA Playoffs. The Play-In Tournament gave us some unforgettable moments with another chapter in the LeBron-Steph rivalry, a Warriors-Grizzlies Overtime thriller, and a 50-point masterpiece from Jayson Tatum to take the Celtics to the Playoffs. These games showed us that the Play-In Tournament is here to stay, giving players and fans a Game 7 Playoffs, win-or-go-home feeling, where current stars perform when it matters the most, and new stars blossom in front of our eyes. Additionally, it proved that Adam Silver’s innovation throughout last season’s NBA Bubble was incredible and should be applauded.