For the past few seasons, fans have been slamming the NBA for its players' perspective attitude toward the regular season. Instances of top players sitting out have led to backlash and accusations that players just don’t care. On July 8, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced his plans for an In-Season Tournament that would feature every team and result in a trophy.
This announcement shocked many fans who never considered a tournament in the middle of the season, especially in the NBA. However, the big question was whether the players would buy in.
Nonetheless, the In-Season Tournament has helped to establish an intensity in the association that is not typically seen until the postseason, and as many fans can attest, the In-Season tournament has produced some memorable basketball games. The recurring Tuesday and Friday night slate of tournament games kept fans engaged with themed courts, new uniforms and fun gameplay.
Additionally, the league incentivized its players by announcing a $500,000 prize given to every player on the championship roster. This makes players want to play harder for more money, but not solely for themselves.
"The guys who are trying to earn their stay—That prize in the end [of the In-Season Tournament] could change their family's lives,” Milwaukee Bucks guard Damian Lillard said. “You don't want to make everything about money but that's something we can do."
It is mainly an opportunity for teams to get some time against familiar foes in a playoff-like atmosphere. No team has taken advantage of the opportunity like the Indiana Pacers.
Outside of guard Bruce Brown, who played for the champion Denver Nuggets last season, Indiana is a young team with little to no real playoff experience, having last been to the playoffs in the 2020 bubble. Gainbridge Fieldhouse hasn’t hosted any playoff games under that name.
The Pacers, on an offensive tear so far this season that could be historically one of the best in league history, won all four games in the first round of group play, scoring 546 points in total and becoming the first-ever team to clinch the next round.
Indiana was the first NBA team in history to win a tournament game, defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers at home Nov. 3.
All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton’s play has spearheaded the Blue and Gold’s In-Season Tournament success.
Behind an average of 28.5 points per game along with 13.5 assists per game, while shooting 49.3 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from the perimeter, Haliburton is a frontrunner for tournament MVP.
His best game came in a 157-152 thriller versus the Atlanta Hawks. Haliburton finished with 37 points and 16 assists. Even in his worst game, he scored 26 points with 10 assists in the knockout round finale against Detroit.
While Haliburton has been playing at an All-NBA level all season, the In-Season Tournament means the most to him right now.
"I've never played in a playoff game, so I take this very serious," Haliburton said. "It's my first time really competing for a championship, having a chance to win something."
The tournament games have been physical and chippy, and for a young team that likes to get out and run, physicality is something opposing teams might strategize for. Center Myles Turner has been in the playoffs, but not since 2020. As one of the most experienced veterans on the team, he understands the importance of a tournament like this.
"It's obviously not the playoffs, but they're playoff feel, playoff-like games," Turner said. "Us getting this experience early, being such a young group, is so important...Being battle-tested early so you're ready for that type of physicality and that type of style of play near the end of the year. It's big time."
Indiana takes on the Boston Celtics Dec. 4 at Gainbridge Fieldhouse.