The Celtics’ matchup against the Brooklyn Nets tonight is their first bite at the NBA in-season tournament apple. This being the first iteration of the tourney, it’s impossible to tell how seriously teams will take the games.
One thing is clear, though: The in-season tournament is weird. It’s composed almost entirely of regular-season games, it will conclude in Las Vegas, and it is being played on alternate courts that most fans seem to agree are abominations. (We broke down the tournament in this piece from Saturday, if you want a refresher.)
In preparation for the wacky event, CelticsBlog writers Ben Dupont and Oliver Fox are here to make 10 in-season tournament predictions – beginning with analysis, but ending up just as zany as the tournament itself.
BD: The Celtics will win the In-Season Tournament
I’ll start with an easy one. The Celtics are the best team in basketball at this point in the season. The new starting lineup is historically great, and they are on a hot streak. If they can keep that up, they will destroy the in-season tournament competition. Why? They begin with matchups against the Nets, the Raptors, the Bulls, and the Magic. Those games should be good momentum-builders going into the knockout rounds. Anything can happen, but they should be the favorites.
A Celtics victory implies a Jayson Tatum tournament MVP trophy, and perhaps another Celtic could sneak onto the all-tournament team (Kristaps Porzingis? Jaylen Brown? Jrue Holiday? Derrick White???)
OF: The Celtics will sweep the group stage on their way to a high seed in the bracket stages
I’ll rein it in a bit, as the single-elimination nature of this tournament means a lot can happen on any given … Tuesday. Or Friday. But it would be a calamity if the Celtics didn’t at least advance to the bracket stages given that their group is barbecue chicken.
It almost feels like the NBA rigged this thing in favor of a few teams, as the Brooklyn Nets are the only playoff club from last year that is joining the Celtics’ group. Even so, the Nets only made the playoffs because of a Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving-shaped cushion that their lackluster second-half record could fall back on. At least in the group stage, I don’t just have high hopes; I have high expectations.
BD: That would be fun, but I’ll say Boston’s only tournament loss will be to Orlando – in the last group-play game
The Celtics conclude the group round with a matchup with the Orlando Magic, who began the season 3-0, like the Celtics. They’ve cooled off some since then, but they have shown they can surprise anyone on any given night.
Besides, the Magic had Boston’s number last season. They beat the Celtics in their last three meetings, including two consecutive games in December. For whatever reason, the Magic like to beat the Celtics.
Boston can still advance if they lose one of the group-stage games. They will either win their division based on a tiebreak or secure a wildcard spot.
OF: Lame, but rational. Here’s something irrational: fans will grow to like the alternate courts
Has anything on the planet been more maligned than the in-season tournament-specific courts? Carpet-bombed with color and designed with the dexterity of a second-grader in Kid Pix, the courts haven’t exactly received a warm welcome by NBA fans.
But I think I will grow to like them. This sounds and feels like blasphemy now, but I am definitely intrigued by the idea of prying fans’ eyelids open with a court that screams “THIS BASKETBALL GAME IS AT LEAST A LITTLE BIT DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHER ONES” at the top of its lungs. The NBA seems to have thrown Feng Shui out the window and adopted the “more is more” philosophy with this entire tournament, and I feel like – eventually – I’ll be able to get behind that.
BD: I think it’s more likely those courts cause serious illness to NBA fans across the globe, but if you say so. So here’s my next one: The in-season alternate courts won’t even last through the tournament
They are that bad. In fact, I think they’re the only part of the tournament that can actually hurt the NBA’s brand. Even fans who think the tournament is stupid aren’t going to skip watching regular-season games because they count toward the tourney. They might, however, be so disgusted by the bowling-alley courts that they turn off the TV entirely. The NBA will go back to normal courts before the tournament concludes.
The alternate courts had a bad debut on Friday. In addition to fans’ complaints about the designs (the Pacers’ and Bulls’ courts seemed to draw the most criticism, and for good reason), the Nuggets’ three-point line was painted wrong! Former Celtic Grant Williams noticed in warmups last Friday that the line was longer than regulation, and the club had to repaint the line before the game. Just this morning, the Dallas Mavericks decided to play on their regular courts because of a “manufacturing issue with the team’s In-Season Tournament court,” according to the NBA. It’s been a disaster from the start, and the league should punt on it before they get in too deep.
OF: The NBA Cup championship celebration will be extremely awkward
Most of the emotion of winning an NBA championship comes from two sources: Pride in achieving your ultimate goal and relief that the job is finally finished. All the stress and emotion leaving their bodies all at once leads guys to lose it on live television, and it’s a pretty special moment watching them realize they will get to cherish a moment for the rest of their lives.
The NBA Cup celebration … is not going to be that. Imagine for a moment that the Celtics bring the whole thing home. Nice. That would happen in Las Vegas on Saturday, Dec. 9th, but I wouldn’t expect Jayson Tatum to put his hands on his head and shake it in disbelief like Tom Brady, thanking fans and everyone who believed they could do it.
I expect the guys to be happy, but not exactly elated – realizing that they have to host the Cleveland Cavaliers the next Tuesday. There won’t be any sense of finality, but rather an awkward “woohoo” before the regular season continues. It’ll be like taking a really cool trip on a long weekend: Everyone still has to go to work on Monday.
BD: Dennis Schröder will drop 40 points against Boston on Nov. 17
The long-awaited Dennis Schröder revenge game. Schröder has played two games against the Cs since leaving Boston during the 2021-22 season, and he has been underwhelming – he’s averaging 7.5 points per game against Boston since that day. But he’s due for a big game against his former team; when better to do it than in the first-ever in-season tournament?
Schröder is in Toronto now, and there’s no reason to suggest that he bears any ill will toward Boston after being traded for Daniel Theis. In fact, Schröder sports a Celtics tattoo and publicly supported Boston in the 2022 NBA finals.
Schröder, though, is a tournament riser, and has a reputation for playing significantly better in international tourney settings. He averaged 19 points and 6 assists for Germany this summer in the FIBA World Cup. It’s a stretch, but the dude is a certified bucket in specific situations. This could be one of them. The Celtics will still win the game handily.
OF: A completely irrelevant team will win the whole thing
I’m obviously rooting for the Celtics to win it, but I’m not sure the universe can resist sending a team on a glory-filled Cinderella run fueled by having nothing else to look forward to. Overall, each team plays a pretty small number of games in the IST, and the whole thing is over before the true tankers can take shape. I don’t see why the Charlotte Hornets can’t just lock in for two weeks and take it home.
The league is full of sickos who will get crazy competitive just for the sake of it, and that’s what the NBA is banking on to keep this thing alive. Payton Pritchard comes to mind, as he is liable to score 92 points in a Portland Pro-Am because … why the heck not? Guys like Jordan Clarkson, Gary Trent Jr., or Terry Rozier aren’t all-stars or anything close. But they’re all certified buckets, and I could see them cooking for long enough to pull it off.
BD: The NBA will debut an LED glass court for the finals in Vegas
This one’s out of left field, but it’s my last guess. FIBA basketball debuted an all-glass court this summer, with LED lights built into the floor, and employed it for its U19 women’s tournament. The court can display different layouts and colors on a whim, and show statistics on the floor while the game is going. It can also serve up advertisements, which is why the league will probably employ this kind of court at some point. Every advertising opportunity is a good one for the NBA.
It’s probably against policy to play on a court made of a different material without advanced approval, so it might not happen this soon. But the tournament championship isn’t technically a regular-season game, so maybe they’d be in the clear. It’s telling that the league has not released what the court for the finals is going to look like, but every other team has its own alternate court designed just for this tournament. An LED court would make the game’s ratings skyrocket. Why not try it out?
That’s what this is all about, anyway: Boosting ratings while the NBA is negotiating a new TV deal. Not to be a cynic, but laying a tournament over the least popular part of the regular season isn’t subtle: The league is trying to make things feel new to swell viewership numbers.
This is the logical conclusion of my pretty baseless theory of comedic determinism in sports. In the case of something as random as the IST, the cosmic continuum simply cannot resist making the funniest possible thing happen. And what would be funnier than the Trail Blazers’ crack squad of randoms defeating their former king?
A lot would have to break right for this to happen. Conceivably, the Blazers – armed with three point guards, Deandre “DominAyton” Ayton and Robert Williams III – would have to find a way to defeat the many very good teams in the west. How does this team beat Denver, you may ask? On paper, they can’t! But that’s why we’re relying on comedic determinism.
The Bucks’ getting there would not be quite as surprising, though it would require them to get their ducks in a row defensively, which has been a serious struggle thus far. Even so, we may get a proof of concept on Nov. 26th when the Blazers and Bucks face off in a regular old game. If Portland can pull that out, anything is possible.
The odds of this happening might legitimately be worse than one in a million, but don’t doubt the power of comedic determinism. When Mike Krzyzewski was making his final NCAA tournament run with Duke, I saw eighth-seeded North Carolina – his sworn rival – lingering in Duke’s half of the bracket. I immediately picked Duke to lose to UNC in the Final Four, because that would just be a super-hilarious way to end Coach K’s tenure. And then it happened, and I felt like a genius.
I’ll take my slot-machine chances at this pure comedy. Because if this happens … I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t put it on paper.