The first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament has resulted in several changes to the early part of the regular season; one of the most significant is an increased emphasis on piling on the points. Since point difference is the seventh criteria for playoff seeding, teams and players had historically given it very little thought before its inclusion in the process. However, the fact that it is the second tiebreaker in tournament play has led numerous teams to continue playing their starters, even when they are losing by a large margin, to rack up additional points in games that have already been decided.
On Friday, when the Toronto Raptors faced up against the Chicago Bulls, it appeared to be the case that this was the scenario. Despite a late surge by the Bulls, Toronto maintained a lead of at least 10 points over the game’s last four minutes and held a lead of as many as 15 points in that span. They never took any of their starters out of the game and kept attempting to score until their very last possession. After Jakob Poeltl got a foul with 1.4 seconds left and the score 120-108, DeMar DeRozan decided he had seen enough of the game. As a result of him ranting at the Raptors bench, he was kicked out of the game.
After the game, DeRozan clarified the source of his rage, stating that it was the fact that the Raptors kept trying to score even though they had already essentially won the game. According to comments made to the media by DeRozan, “I don’t care about any In-Season Tournament points or none of that.” “Just respect for the game.”
The Raptors were knocked out of the In-Season Tournament earlier in the day, bringing us to the point where things begin to take an exciting turn. The Orlando Magic were victorious over the Boston Celtics in the opening game played on Friday. As a consequence of this, both teams have secured better positions in their respective group play competitions than the Raptors do. Consequently, even though the Raptors wanted to win the game for the regular season, they needed more motivation to run up the score.
It’s entirely plausible that they were unaware of that fact. The Raptors weren’t paying attention to a game that started many hours before theirs, or they weren’t even aware that the Magic game had an impact on their contest. They might have been operating under the assumption that since it was a tournament game, they needed to rack up as many points as possible. It is also possible that they played until the last whistle for reasons that had very little to do with the event and that DeRozan was merely making an assumption about their motivations.
Despite how it was implemented, the use of point differential as a tiebreaker was always going to irritate a subset of the population. Whether or not you agree with DeRozan’s attitude, the unwritten rule in most sports is that a team should stop trying to score once its victory is certain. This is true regardless of whether or not you agree with DeRozan. The simple existence of a point difference tiebreaker directly opposes the concept being discussed here. When the In-Season Tournament has been going on for a more extended period, players will become accustomed to this and comprehend that it is an outlier. However, for the time being? It almost seemed inevitable that something like this would happen.