Bock’s Score: The NBA Playoffs Are Now Tainted With Teams Sitting Out The Last Day

Let’s talk today about integrity.

It is a word you always hear around the world of sports. Nothing is more important than protecting the integrity of the game. It is why Pete Rose, the man who had more hits than anybody in the history of baseball, is banned from the game. He messed with its integrity and that is simply not acceptable.

And it is why the NBA is wearing a black eye today as the playoffs begin.

On the last day of the season, with playoff berths on the line, some teams folded up like cheap suits, turning the 82-game season into a travesty. With the season winding down, the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat were battling for the last two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. When the post season starts this weekend, the Heat will be home, wondering what happened to the integrity of the NBA.

The Bulls are in, thanks to a 112-73 drubbing of the woebegone Brooklyn Nets. This 39-point victory was the result of the Nets choosing to be non-competitive, benching their best players. Instead, it seemed, they sent out a bunch of anonymous characters who might have been picked up from a playground on Flatbush Avenue to battle the Bulls. It was no contest and it gave Chicago the No. 8 playoff berth in the East and a date with the Boston Celtics.

Meanwhile, Atlanta pulled the same stunt, resting its regulars and all but conceding a 104-86 drubbing against Indiana. The game meant nothing to the Hawks, who will play Washington next. But it meant plenty to the Pacers, who locked up the seventh spot in the East and a date with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And Miami? Sorry, but the Heat is out of luck, thanks to an outrageous approach that turned important games into meaningless exercises.

Now, it might be argued that the Heat got itself in this pickle with a horrible 11-30 record over the first half of the season. But they recovered with a brilliant flourish to finish 41-41. They needed a combination of things to happen in the final week to advance – a win over playoff-bound Washington and losses by either Indiana or Chicago. The Heat held up their end of the bargain, beating the Wizards and then watched their chances disintegrate when Brooklyn and Atlanta put up only token resistance against Chicago and Indiana.

The Nets’ argument for sitting their regulars was that they wanted to avoid injuries and send their players into the off-season healthy.


Brooklyn’s next game that counts will be in October, a full six months from now. Surely any injury that might have been sustained against the Bulls would heal by then. And the Heat certainly would have appreciated an honest effort.

Atlanta, at least, has a playoff series ahead so it made more sense for the Hawks to protect their regulars. That strategy, however, left the Heat feeling awfully cold.

 This stuff stinks.

This strategy is a first cousin to the habit some teams have of sitting stars, giving the game’s biggest names a night off and ignoring the fact that fans pay fancy prices for tickets, expecting to see a team’s most important players only to wind up watching a bunch of bench warmers run up and down the court.

Then there is the habit that have-not teams often have of tanking late-season games in order to improve their supply of ping pong balls in the NBA’s convoluted draft. New York Knicks fans were astounded that their one-point win over Philadelphia in the season’s final game seriously impacted their chance for a higher pick in the draft. That win translated into a loss for a team that suffered through a season of limited wins.

This is an upside down way of doing things and a serious attack on the integrity of the league. And without integrity, the league is in big trouble. Fixing this should be near the top of commissioner Adam Silver’s summer agenda.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock is a contributor with NY Sports Day. He has covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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