NEW YORK: It lasted 174 days, required the usage of more players than any season in history primarily because of the ongoing challenge of playing through a pandemic, and saw playoff-positioning chases go all the way down to the final moments.
Now, move over, regular season.
The NBA’s postseason is finally here.
Kyrie Irving can play at home again, a change-of-heart regarding vaccination rules that was made a few weeks ago by the city of New York in a move that will have immediate impact on the race to the NBA championship. Irving and the Brooklyn Nets held off the Indiana Pacers 134-126 on Sunday, and will play host to the first play-in game of this year’s tournament when they face the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.
That matchup wasn’t set until Sunday, nor was the other Eastern Conference play-in matchup: No. 9 Atlanta will play host to No. 10 Charlotte on Wednesday night. The winner of that game will play the Nets-Cavaliers loser on Friday to determine who’ll face No. 1 Miami in an East first-round series.
The Nets-Cavaliers winner will be seeded No. 7 and meet second-seeded Boston in the first round. The Celtics secured the No. 2 seed on Sunday night with a win in Memphis, combined with Milwaukee’s loss to Cleveland.
Charlotte will be without forward Gordon Hayward, announcing Sunday that he’s “out indefinitely with continued discomfort in his left foot.” Hayward’s foot will be placed in a cast for at least two weeks, meaning if the Hornets win twice in the play-in tournament and get into the postseason, he’ll likely miss most of Round 1, at minimum, as well.
Defending NBA champion Milwaukee will be seeded No. 3 in the East and will play No. 6 Chicago in a first-round series. Fourth-seeded Philadelphia will face fifth-seeded Toronto in another East matchup.
In the West, Golden State and Dallas are vying later Sunday to see who ends up No. 3, while Utah and Denver both have chances to be No. 5.
Joel Embiid of Philadelphia is the league’s scoring champion, averaging 30.6 points. He was held out of the 76ers’ finale Sunday, not that he needed it for any statistical reasons.
Embiid — who hails from Cameroon — becomes the first international player to win that title. Embiid is also the first center to win the scoring crown since Shaquille O’Neal in 1999-2000.
Race to 82
Only five players were in position to play on Sunday and officially appear in all 82 regular-season games with their team this season: Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges, Detroit’s Saddiq Bey, Washington’s Deni Avdija, Dallas’ Dwight Powell and the Warriors’ Kevon Looney.
They all appeared in games Sunday, completing the 82-game quest.
Having only five players get to 82 marked the fewest number of players in NBA history to have appeared in every game for a full regular season.
There were 11 players who appeared in all 72 games last season, which was shortened because of the pandemic. There were 14 every-game players in 2019-20, when teams played differing numbers of games, again because of the pandemic and then with not every team advancing to the restart bubble in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
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