The NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament has introduced a number of wrinkles to the early portion of the regular season, and one of the biggest is a newfound importance on running up the score. Point-differential is the seventh tiebreaker for playoff seeding, so it had rarely been considered much by teams or players in the past. However, it is the second tiebreaker in tournament play, so several teams have taken to leaving their starters on the floor, even in blowouts to try to run up the score in games that have already been decided.
That was seemingly the case on Friday when the Toronto Raptors played against the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls made a late push, but Toronto led by double-digits throughout the last four minutes and was ahead by as many as 15 points in that window. They never took their starters out, and up until their final possession, they continued trying to score. When Jakob Poeltl drew a foul up 120-108 with 1.4 seconds to go, DeMar DeRozan had had enough. He got himself ejected for yelling at the Raptors bench.
Following his ejection at the of the Bulls-Raptors game, DeMar DeRozan stopped to give Masai Ujiri a hug 🫂pic.twitter.com/ufTDZn6SRm
— The Sporting News (@sportingnews) November 25, 2023
After the game, DeRozan confirmed that his anger was because of the Raptors continuing to try to score in a game they’d already effectively won. “I don’t care about no In-Season Tournament points or none of that,” DeRozan told reporters. “Just respect for the game.”
Now, here’s where things get interesting: the Raptors were eliminated from the In-Season Tournament earlier in the day. In Friday’s first contest, the Orlando Magic defeated the Boston Celtics. As a result, both clinched better group play positions than the Raptors, so while the Raptors did want to win the game for regular-season purposes, they had no incentive to run up the score.
Now, it’s possible that they didn’t know that. The Raptors may not have been monitoring a game that tipped hours before theirs did, or they might not have even known that the Magic game affected theirs. They might simply have had it in their heads that it was a tournament game, so they needed to run up the score. It’s also possible that they played to the final whistle for reasons that had little to do with the tournament, and DeRozan was just making an assumption.
Either way, the use of point-differential as a tiebreaker was always going to rub some people the wrong way. Whether or not you agree with DeRozan’s position, the unwritten rule of most sports is that a team should stop trying to score once its victory is assured. The mere presence of a point-differential tiebreaker comes into conflict with that idea. Perhaps when the In-Season Tournament has been around longer, players will get used to this and understand that it is an exception. For now, though? An incident like this almost felt inevitable.