The NBA In-Season Tournament’s single-elimination stage wins this week. Human nature drives us to flock to new things and the IST has inspired quite a few reasons to hate it. There’s a lot not to like. The point differentials play a role in who advances, the personalized courts that play like ice rinks, the 30-team field being whittled down to eight teams that don’t include the last two NBA champions and the sudden-death round starting nearly a month into the tournament. The Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans kick off Day 1, so here’s where each team is insufferable in their own way.
Pacers run a freak
Offensively, Indiana is a frat party. Buddy Hield makes trick shots from a chandelier, Myles Turner blocks shots through his own window and Tyrese Halliburton provides the social lubricant. Problem is, when everyone goes home, the Pacers house is trashed and they’ve done enough damage that it’s barely livable. They live life on the edge. They hit turbo with possession of the rock, but defend as if they had one too many. They can get away with it because they are young, fun and the city needs something to root for. The Pacers play like the 2023 analog of Doug Moe’s Silent D-enver Nuggets. That legendary Nuggets offense was the last carryover from the ABA, but rarely played meaningful postseason basketball.
Haliburton is an outstanding playmaker, but can you trust a heliocentric offensive conductor who looks like he’s constipated when he tries jump shots? Buddy Hield is the NBA’s 30-year-old postseason virgin and plays a smaller role than he has in the past, but he’s getting too old for these shenanigans after missing the postseason longer than any active player. The last time Hield played in a single-elimination game, he was a senior at Oklahoma beat Villanova by 44 points. And he is the veteran on this team. By comparison, the Boston Celtics look like Logan Roy.
Celtics consultant management firm
If the Pacers are the young, carefree invaders running a Calvinball offense, Boston is a soulless franchise led by a Pete Buttigieg clone. Like any McKinsey alum, Brad Stevens traded most of his homegrown supporting stars for a prosaic crop of efficient project managers. The Celtics are essentially Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and a consulting firm. Horford is practically a grandfather now, while Brown is the NBA’s highest-paid player, but one who comes across like he’s got Ball Hog weighted ball-handling gloves on his left hand.
Jrue Holiday is the fix teams import to lift their quarterly projections on both ends of the floor. But like any consultant, he is not tied to any one place for too long. The same goes for Kristaps Porzingis. Since leaving New York, he has become a hired gun.
Danny Ainge went this route to trade Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving and it destroyed their continuity, but at least Irving was a dazzling performer with the rock in his hands. Porzingis and Holiday are great for team chemistry on the floor, but they’re also operators brought in if the general manager was secretly artificial intelligence. They fit just what Boston needs, but they will never inspire as much passion as KG, Bird and Ray Allen. Even their best player secretly wishes he was a Laker.
Porzingis suffered a calf strain on Nov. 24, hasn’t played since and is out for the Celtics opener. Boston’s biggest fear is that he misses an important game due to injury. This season is his best chance to redeem his reputation after years of playing Broadway in Dallas and Washington, but if he sits on the bench during the postseason, these Celtics can’t expect to bring home Boston’s 18th title this summer not. Until 2020, Boston has had more Larry O’Briens than almost every franchise, can you imagine how insufferable Bostonians will be if their post-Brady title drought is interrupted by an In-Season title? Fortunately, Joe Mazzulla’s preparation and painstaking execution in tight time is worst than Doug and Jem’s “last job” in The Town.
Murphy’s Law applies to the New Orleans Pelicans
If smooth sailing is what the New Orleans Pelicans are all about, that can only mean it’s a matter of time until the ship capsizes. A leak always springs when the Pelicans hit their stride. Remember when Demarcus Cousins broke his Achilles as he, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday began refining their connection?
Zion Williamson’s uncertain health and fitness has become a running joke and common narrative. But he’s not the only Pelican with perforated bones and ligaments. CJ McCollum’s frailty should be just as concerning. Since the 72-game 2020-21 season, he has missed 147 games. McCollum’s is just as much to blame for the Pelicans as Williamson’s, so spare some of that fire-breathing criticism for Jaleel White with a jump shot.
Brandon Ingram is thriving, but turning into the Michael Beasley of Kevin Durants. It’s a disappointment. His silky play inspired Durant comps and he seemed to make a leap, but he constantly takes two steps back after one step forward. Ingram was a sore thumb on Team USA at this summer’s FIBA World Cup and he carried it into the regular season, apparently leaving his jump shot in the Philippines.
The third level Beam team
The Beam team was a shock to the league’s system last season. The Beam lit up the skies over Sacramento, De’Aaron Fox won the first Clutch Player of the Year Award, they set the all-time record for offensive efficiency, ended the league’s longest playoff drought and Domantas Sabonis emerged as a viable no. 2 emerged. on a playoff team, but they lost the element of surprise. Now comes the real expectations. The Kings wouldn’t have advanced if Golden State hadn’t scrambled to try and reach a +13 point differential. Every time you watch the Kings, just remember what could have been. Keegan Murray’s development is stuck in amber while Shaedon Sharpe looks like a gamechanger for Portland.
This is the organization that traded Luka Doncic for Marvin Bagley, and Vivak Ranadive is training his daughter to run the basketball team soon. They also clinched the Oklahoma City Thunder’s spot in the quarterfinals. Fox and Sabonis feel like overachievers who have already bumped their heads against a ceiling compared to Sam Presti’s precocious Thunder Team.
Sabonis is the other side of the Julius Randle coin in a multitude of ways. He is fenced in by his limitations. He’s efficient to a fault, measured, a non-factor defensively and he pops up once a night to attempt one mandatory three. Randle is volatile both offensively and emotionally, sluggish on defense and he lacks an extra gear. And as fun as he is, just remember how much higher the Kings could go if they used Tyrese Haliburton correctly.
(Part 2 will be published tomorrow, Dec. 5).
Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebral sportsx