National

NBA in-season tournament: Bucks, Celtics, Knicks join Pacers, Lakers in knockout stages

The final day of group play in the inaugural NBA in-season tournament brought the scoreboard watching and tiebreaker drama the league was hoping for so many months ago.

The Boston Celtics entered Tuesday with a simple directive: beat the Chicago Bulls as hard as humanly possible. With a point differential of zero and a three-way tie with the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets likely, Boston needed a blowout of the Bulls to top the idle Magic's +22 margin.

The game started fairly even, then the Celtics continued to build a huge lead. They were up by 11 by the end of the first quarter, up by 19 at halftime, then broke through with a big third quarter for a 124-97 win. Meanwhile, the Nets beat the Toronto Raptors, but by little enough that they finished behind the Magic.

Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Bucks took care of business against a Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat to improve their record to 4-0 and take East Group B, though the Heat made things difficult at times. Miami led by three points midway through the fourth quarter, but a quick 7-0 run gave Milwaukee the distance it needed.

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard had one of their best games yet together, combining for 65 points and 14 assists.

The New York Knicks were watching that Bucks-Heat game with great interest, as a Heat win would have handed them a group win. The Knicks improved their point differential to +42 with a blowout win over the Charlotte Hornets, but they ended up having to settle for the East wild-card.

The Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers were the first teams to clinch knockout spots, with both teams having finished up 4-0 records on Friday. The Pacers rode NBA in-season tourney MVP favorite Tyrese Haliburton to dramatic wins over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Philadelphia 76ers in East Group A, while the Lakers coasted in an unusually weak West Group A.

Teams that advance will play in the quarterfinals on Dec. 4 and 5, with games hosted by the higher seeds, with the semifinals and finals scheduled for Dec. 7 and 9 in Las Vegas. All games save for the final will count toward regular season records.

Friday's NBA in-season tournament scores

NBA in-season tournament standings

All games, save for the championship game, will count toward regular-season records. Tiebreakers are, in order: head-to-head record, point differential, total points scored, 2022-23 regular-season record and a random drawing.

East Group A

1. Indiana Pacers: 4-0, +39 (won group)2. Cleveland Cavaliers: 3-1, +29 (eliminated)3. Philadelphia 76ers: 2-2, +9 (eliminated)4. Atlanta Hawks: 1-3, -32 (eliminated)5. Detroit Pistons: 0-4, -45 (eliminated)

East Group B

1. Milwaukee Bucks: 4-0, +46 (won group)2. New York Knicks: 3-1, +42 (wild card)3. Miami Heat: 2-2, +4 (eliminated)4. Charlotte Hornets: 1-3, -54 (eliminated)5. Washington Wizards: 0-4, -38 (eliminated)

East Group C

1. Boston Celtics: 3-1, +27 (won group)2. Orlando Magic: 3-1, +22 (eliminated)3. Brooklyn Nets: 3-1, +20 (eliminated)4. Toronto Raptors: 1-2, -21 (eliminated)5. Chicago Bulls: 0-4, -48 (eliminated)

West Group A

1. Los Angeles Lakers: 4-0, +74 (won group)2. Phoenix Suns: 3-1, +34 (current wild card)3. Utah Jazz: 2-2, -13 (eliminated)4. Portland Trail Blazers: 1-3, -39 (eliminated)5. Memphis Grizzlies: 0-4, -56 (eliminated)

West Group B

1. New Orleans Pelicans: 3-1, +332. Houston Rockets: 2-1, +163. Denver Nuggets: 2-2, -10 (eliminated)4. Dallas Mavericks: 1-2, -14 (eliminated)5. Los Angeles Clippers: 1-3, -25 (eliminated)

West Group C

1. Sacramento Kings: 3-0, +292. Golden State Warriors: 2-1, +53. Minnesota Timberwolves: 2-1, -34. Oklahoma City Thunder: 1-2, +27 (eliminated)5. San Antonio Spurs: 0-4, -58 (eliminated)