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Report: In-Season Tournament “Is A Real Thing”

9:01 AM EST on November 22, 2023

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - NOVEMBER 21: Obi Toppin #1 of the Indiana Pacers dunks against Onyeka Okongwu #17 of the Atlanta Hawks during the second quarter of an NBA In-Season Tournament game at State Farm Arena on November 21, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Obi Toppin; Onyeka Okongwu
Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Give Rick Carlisle minimal credit for distributing frothy mugs of Adam Silver's finest cherry Kool-Aid. The Indiana Pacers coach spent his postgame presser Tuesday night effusively talking up the NBA's in-season tournament like it was the postseason, despite featuring the kind of defense you’d see in an All-Star Game.

"This essentially is a playoff environment," Carlisle said after the Pacers outlasted the Atlanta Hawks 157-152 to clinch East Group A, which sounds a lot more like a German army division in World War II than one of the six IST divisions. "Atlanta was playing for a lot, too. The in-season tournament is getting a lot of buzz. … This is a real thing. Hats off to the people in New York for coming up with something that, at least to this point, is strong."

At some point, though, someone must have reminded him of the final score, and that the two teams least likely to play any defense played 20 percent less last night because the game was so vitally important to the integrity of the tournament. It wasn't a playoff environment, it was a summer league environment. It had all the earmarks of two teams trying to figure out who could be bothered less, and by jacking up four shots every minute, the vast majority of them barely contested, they both told us what the in-season tournament means.

It was the second-highest-scoring regular-season game since 1990. Both teams shot over 60 percent, the first time that's happened since 1997. The two least devoted defensive teams in the league made sure everyone paying attention knew it. And yet Carlisle committed to the bit to the end, saying as though he thought anyone might believe him, "We were not giving nearly enough resistance defensively [in the first half]. We challenged ourselves to pick it up and be defiant with our attitude and give ourselves a chance."

Second-half defiance in this case being 66 points allowed, a submissive effort under most circumstances but 20 points better than their first-half performance.

Don't get us wrong here. Points are good, the more the gooder. Four shots a minute can be fun when they go in three out of every five times. Carlisle was right when he said, "It had to be really fun to watch for fans." He was just lying when he said, "This is a classic regular-season game." He died a little inside when he said it, and he spat out the taste of the words once he left the podium.

But he has people he reports to, so while he knows that his team doesn't commit to defense as a concept, he is smart enough to tip his hat to the boss by pretending this game was a triumph of the tournament spirit and the players' devotion to the competition.

And if you doubt that, tell us who has the best records in the other five divisions. In fact, name the other five divisions. Remember we gave you a hint six paragraphs ago. The players have not seen what the benefits and consequences of the tournament might be, so the notion that they are motivated by its lures is nonsense. Neither they nor the Hawks played defense last night because it was too much fun to not play defense, and that explanation should be sufficient on its face. Even Rick Carlisle's face.

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