Myles Turner will go into the NBA’s history books.
Turner’s dunk off a pass from Indiana Pacers All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton 19 seconds into Friday night’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers became the first basket scored in the history of the NBA’s in-season tournament, which began with a slate of seven group-stage games.
After years of debate over the possibility of the NBA having a tournament — modeled off the ones that take place in European soccer and basketball leagues — the long-time pet project of commissioner Adam Silver became a reality Friday. The slate of seven games marked the first of seven days of group stage games across the month of November, including the next three Fridays along with Nov. 14, 21 and 28. The tournament will see all 30 NBA teams play four games against groups drawn together based off last year’s standings.
The Pacers and Cavs played the first game of the night, with Indiana winning 121-116 in an Eastern Conference Group A matchup. In keeping with the themed courts every team will be utilizing for the tournament, the game was played on a very bright blue court inside Indianapolis’ Gainbridge Fieldhouse.
The Pacers triumphed after a seesaw affair for 48 minutes was ultimately swung in their favor with a late 12-1 run. Haliburton’s stepback jumper with 17.1 seconds to go and a pair of free throws 10 seconds later put the game away.
In the night’s biggest game, at least in terms of determining who will advance to the quarterfinals next month, the Bucks hosted the New York Knicks, as the top two teams in Eastern Conference Group B squared off.
The Bucks entered the night 29th in the NBA in defensive rating after being inside the top 10 in four of the previous five years. Led by center Brook Lopez, who had seven blocks, they began to look more like their old selves against New York. When asked about it during the halftime interview on the ESPN broadcast Friday, Bucks coach Adrian Griffin said there was a good reason for it: He shifted back to the team’s previous defensive coverage under former coach Mike Budenholzer at the request of his players.
“I think the players sometimes are smarter than the coaches,” Griffin said. “They wanted Brook in a drop, and I was smart enough to listen to them, and it’s paying off tonight.”
That was enough to allow Milwaukee to escape with a 110-105 victory over New York, which got 43 points from Jalen Brunson and actually led after a Brunson 3-pointer with 70 seconds to go. But Damian Lillard hit a 3 and then a layup on back-to-back possessions to put the Bucks ahead for good.
While things started to improve for the Bucks, it was another difficult night to open the season offensively for New York, which shot 39.6 percent overall and a dismal 10-for-39 from 3. And while Brunson had a big night for the Knicks, going for 45 points, it was another awful game for Julius Randle, who went 5-for-20 overall and 1-for-9 from 3-point range to fall to 34.2 percent shooting overall and 22.5 percent shooting from 3-point range through six games this year.
In an Eastern Conference Group C game in Chicago, Bulls forward Patrick Williams was moved out of the starting lineup by coach Billy Donovan in favor of Torrey Craig, but that wasn’t enough for the Bulls to avoid losing 109-107 to the Brooklyn Nets. The game ended with Zach LaVine missing a potential game-tying shot at the buzzer. Dorian Finney-Smith had 21 points to lead Brooklyn, while DeMar DeRozan had 24 for the Bulls.
Miami, meanwhile, snapped a four-game losing streak with a 121-111 home victory over Washington in an Eastern Conference Group B game. The Heat got 24 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists from Tyler Herro.
Arguably the most difficult group in the tournament is Western Conference Group C, which comprises the Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs. It certainly appeared things will play out that way based on how things went in Oklahoma City on Friday night, when the Warriors emerged with a last-second 141-139 victory.
Despite missing All-NBA guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, the Thunder pushed it right to the buzzer before Stephen Curry flipped in a layup with less than a second to go that, after a very lengthy review, was determined to have counted despite Draymond Green hitting the rim.