NBA in-season tournament rules already creating plenty of drama

This tournament rule could inject more drama into NBA games this season.
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers / Mike Mulholland/GettyImages

The NBA in-season tournament saw one of its first major flare-ups of controversy on Friday night in the Philadelphia 76ers' 114-106 win over the Detroit Pistons.

Philly was up by eight points with roughly seven seconds to go in the fourth. The game was clearly over, yet when Embiid had the ball in the Pistons' half, he drilled a three-pointer as time expired. He got the shot off too late and it didn't end up counting toward the final score; however, he apparently rubbed Pistons players the wrong way for his perceived violation of the game's tacit rules.

Since this was an NBA in-season tournament game, Embiid did nothing wrong. As written in the tournament handbook, point differential is the second tiebreaker in the group stage.

Detroit likely did not know this. Thinking that Embiid committed an unsportsmanlike foul with his last-second shot, Pistons players tried to fight Embiid after the game, as the 76ers star recounted in an interview.

76ers star Joel Embiid was unfairly criticized for end-of-game shot vs. Pistons

Embiid said, "I heard when I came back to the locker room, I heard some people were trying to follow me. I had no idea... Players or coaches. I wish I would have seen it."

Embiid had clearly done his homework on the NBA's in-season tournament rules; the Pistons were not on the same page with Embiid on Friday night. Now, they and any other team formerly ignorant of the point differential tiebreaker know better.

A "points scored" tiebreaker isn't all that uncommon in sports. In soccer, the UEFA Champions League uses goal differential as a key tiebreaker in the group stage, and in the NFL, a team's number of total points also factors into seeding (albeit ranked after win-loss percentages and strength of schedule).

For the NBA, this tiebreaker could have unforeseen dramatic consequences moving forward. Many games tend to end on a leisurely, relaxed pace if the losing team is realistically out of reach of a potential comeback. With the in-season tournament underway, both teams may be incentivized to play and compete until the final buzzer goes off. In the famous words of the motto of Carmen Berzatto, every second (and point) counts.

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