The new NBA In Season Tournament is here, and you either love it or you hate it. The whacky courts, a somewhat confusing format, and the question of if it's even necessary are its most common critiques. On the other hand, some fans feel the new courts and added incentives during the season are bringing a much-needed level of excitement to what would otherwise be a boring divisional matchup in November.
The same can be said from the player's perspective. Some have admitted their excitement, while others, including Boston Celtics Jaylen Brown, have expressed a rather mundane point of view for the tournament.
"I wouldn't choose the word excited," Brown said leading up to Boston's first IST game earlier this month. "(We're) ready, we'll be ready. If there's basketball to be played our group will be ready."
After a convincing 121-107 win over the Brooklyn Nets in the first contest of group play, even a shiny new court at TD Garden didn't seem to make the game any more competitive. The Celtics rolled in what did in fact seem like another ordinary divisional matchup in November to improve their overall record to 6-2. After stomping on the Toronto Raptors 117-94 the following game, Boston's next IST matchup was expected to be yet another walk in the park.
That wasn't the case. The Celtics traveled north for their second IST group stage game, winning a 108-105 thriller after conceding a 16-point lead at halftime. Regardless of the overall feeling of the inaugural IST between players and fans alike, last week's matchup with Toronto revealed why it may be a blessing in disguise for the Boston Celtics. Here's three reasons why the IST will only benefit the Celtics in the long run:
What's at for Boston Celtics players if they win the NBA In-Season Tournament
Whether or not the players want to admit it, the stakes are high for the IST. Each player on the NBA Cup winning team will take home $500,000 as a part of their share of the expected increase in revenue generated by the tournament. Generally, when something is in it for the players, they play harder. They compete.
While the stakes of the IST are not comparable to the NBA playoffs by any means, it provides this new-look Celtics team an opportunity to see what they are made of under even the slightest bit of pressure. In last week's close game against Toronto, the team did just that. In back-and-forth action late in the fourth quarter, veterans Al Horford and Derrick White stepped up in clutch spots to give the Celtics the ultimate edge, including a pair of Horford three-balls to extend the lead.
With 26 seconds remaining in the game, White drained a corner three to give the Celtics the lead in what went down as the game-winning bucket. With their backs against the wall, the Celtics were forced to bear down in a non-regular season game--something that will certainly not hurt this team this early in the season.
The Boston Celtics will have another goal to strive for before Banner 18
The ultimate goal of this franchise is to capture Banner 18. However, the Celtics now have one more goal before their pursuit of a championship begins in late April. As Celtics fans have experienced over the last decade, their team has come close to their dreams on countless occasions, coming up just short time and time again. With the introduction of the IST, Boston will be able to prove to themselves if they finally have what it takes to reach the pinnacle of the NBA.
However, their season doesn't rely on capturing the NBA Cup. Even if the Celtics fall short in Las Vegas, or don't even make it there at all, the team will be brought out of their comfort zone to see what they can accomplish. As newcomers Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday are still acclimating themselves to the roster, the Celtics will reap the benefits of undergoing this new experience.
The Boston Celtics can use the In-Season Tournament as a confidence booster
If the Celtics manage to come out on top of the IST, there won't be a more confident team in the NBA in mid-December approaching the heart of the regular season than Boston--the sole thought of winning something could spark wonders in this team. It could provide head coach Joe Mazzulla with the reassurance of his controversial coaching practices. It could solidify Jayson Tatum's role in leading Boston to win. And it definitely would insinuate this team is on the right track to their ultimate prize in late June.
That doesn't mean the winner of the In-Season Tournament will win the NBA Finals. But, it will highlight a franchise that is ready to win in some capacity. The Celtics tip off their third group stage game on Friday with the Orlando Magic where they'll look to improve to 3-0 in the tournament.