The Giants are bad. The Jets are embarrassing. Time to reset and watch some meaningful basketball.
Yes, basketball that matters in December. Contrived or not, that’s exactly what Knicks fans are going to get as their team advanced to the knockout round of the In-Season Tournament after a 115-91 win over Charlotte on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks, who finished 3-1 in group play, will travel to Milwaukee to play the Bucks in the knockout round on either Monday or Tuesday. Milwaukee finished 4-0 in group play after defeating the Heat, 131-124, Tuesday.
The biggest winner Tuesday, however, was Adam Silver, who will have two big-market teams — the Lakers and the Knicks — the quarterfinals of the tournament. This will certainly help viewership of the inaugural In-Season Tournament, which will hold its semifinals and finals in Las Vegas Dec. 7 and Dec. 9.
And, make no mistake, viewership is what this whole tournament is about. The NBA’s current media deal ends at the close of the 2024-25 season, which means they can start negotiating with their current broadcasting partner in March and other interested parties, including Amazon, a month later. You can bet Silver will be thrilled to show them that, yes, fans do care about the NBA before Christmas.
While the tournament’s success remains to be seen — it’s hard to imagine any team getting too pumped up to hang an In-Season Tournament championship banner from its rafters — there have been some interesting moments in the group-play stage, much more interesting than we could have expected to see in a regular mid-November game.
Leading the list for the Knicks was there their come from behind 100-98 win over Miami in Friday’s group play game. Jalen Brunson, who scored eight points in the final three minutes, likened the atmosphere at Madison Square Garden that night to a playoff game. The game might have had some of that atmosphere anyway, given that Miami eliminated the Knicks from the playoffs last year. Yet, having something additional to play for elevated the stakes somewhat.
The biggest unexpected bonus of the group-play stage of the tournament, however, seems to be the general state of confusion it has caused as fans tried to figure out just what had to happen Tuesday for their team to advance. This alone kept fans talking. It also turned Tuesday night’s Knicks game against a bad Charlotte team that was missing a top scorer (LaMelo Ball) into something verging on must-see TV for Knicks fans
“It’s met it’s intended purpose,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said when asked if he was confused as everyone else about what had to happen Tuesday night for teams to get to the knockout round. “I think it’s been good.”
It’s also been good in that fans can see how the Knicks respond in pressure situations so early in the season. After losing to the Bucks in the first play-in game, the Knicks beat the Wizards, rallied from 21 points down to beat Miami and then beat Charlotte.
Although Brunson’s heroics against the Heat have been well documented, there also was some minor heroics Tuesday night. Josh Hart, who had complained before the game that he did not feel included in the offense, scored 17 points off the bench, including a three-pointer that sent the Knicks in the right direction after Charlotte had narrowed the lead to single digits. Julius Randle (25 points) also came up with a big game when the Knicks needed it most from their star scorer.
Of course, the reward for all this is the Knicks will end up playing the Bucks five times this season and three times in December. Perhaps that’s a good thing as they will learn a lot about a team they might very well have to meet in the playoffs. Or perhaps it’s not as the knock-out round game will count in the regular standings and the Knicks would be better off playing a team that isn’t such a tough out.
Said Thibodeau: “Whatever it is, you gotta make the best of it. You play a team five times, then you play a team five times. Be ready whatever it is. If they say eight times, it’s eight times. Whatever the schedule is, that’s what you have.”