The NBA has added a new twist to the playoffs over the last couple of years. Starting in the 2020 season when all sports got shut down due to COVID-19, the NBA created a tournament to allow lower-seeded teams a chance to fight their way into a playoff spot, and have continued the practice the past few seasons. The tournament format sees the seventh and eighth seed teams in each conference play one game to determine the seventh seed. The ninth and tenth seed teams also play a game and the winner of that game plays the loser of the seventh versus eighth seed game.
The first game in the tournament was the Eastern Conference’s seventh versus eighth game with the Brooklyn Nets facing off against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Nets won the matchup 115-108 and will play the second-seeded Boston Celtics in the first round. Brooklyn was led by their two superstars, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant. Irving scored 34 points, shooting 12 of 15 from the field, as well as picking up 12 assists. Durant scored 25 points in the game as well. The Nets were up by as much as 20 points in the second half, but even when the Cavs cut it to a four-point lead, they still couldn’t complete the comeback, despite a game-high 34 points from Darrius Garland.
The next game in the East was the ninth-seeded Atlanta Hawks versus the tenth-seeded Charlotte Hornets. It was never a close game, as the Hawks won 132-103. Atlanta did not get a stellar game from their star point guard Trae Young, while he scored 24 points it was done with terrible efficiency. However, as a team the Hawks were on fire for many stretches of the game, shooting 52% from the field and 50% from the three-point line as a team. The Hornets could not get it together with Lamelo Ball and Terry Rozier shooting a combining for 15 of 47 from the field, eliminating the Hornets from the playoffs.
The final game in the East was for the eighth seed, played between the Hawks and the Cavs. The Hawks won 107-101 on the road, ending Cleveland’s season. Young looked like he was going to have another slow game at the beginning of the contest with six points on 3 of 13 shooting with his team down 10 at halftime. However, he turned it on in the second half and scored 32 points, only missing two shots in the half. Atlanta earned the right to play the Miami Heat in the first round with this victory.
In the West, the seventh versus eighth game featured the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Los Angeles Clippers. The game was a close one throughout but the Timberwolves held on to win 109-104. D’Angelo Russell and rookie Anthony Edwards combined for 59 points. However, what really stole the show was the antics of Minnesota guard Pat Beverley, who was very animated at the end of the game after beating his former team. He was later fined $30,000 by the NBA for “an egregious use of profanity” in his post-game interview.
The ninth versus tenth game saw the New Orleans Pelicans host the San Antonio Spurs. The Pelicans won 113-103. They had three players get over 20 points: Jonas Valenciunas with 22, Brandon Ingram with 27 and CJ McCollum with 32. The final score makes the game seem a lot closer than it actually was. The Pelicans were up as many as 21 points in the fourth quarter and it only became close towards the end. But it was too little too late for the Spurs, as their season came to an end with this loss.
The final game was between the Pelicans and the Clippers. New Orleans won 105-101 after coming back from being down 11 points in the fourth quarter. Ingram had a 30-point outing to lead the way to victory. The Clippers were without their all-star forward Paul George due to an injury, which may have helped the Pelicans come back at the end. The Pelicans will play the Phoenix Suns in the first round.