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, Sunday, and will host the first play-in game of this year’s tournament when they face the Cavaliers Tuesday night.
That matchup wasn’t set until Sunday, nor was the other Eastern Conference play-in matchup: No. 9 Atlanta will host No. 10 Charlotte Wednesday night. The winner of that game will play the Nets-Cavaliers loser 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 Boston in the first round.
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.
In the West, the Timberwolves will host the Clippers in a play-in game Tuesday night, with the winner clinching the No. 7 seed and facing the Grizzlies in the first round.
No. 9 New Orleans will host No. 10 San Antonio Wednesday night. The winner of that game will face the Minnesota-Los Angeles loser Friday for the right to play NBA-leading Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs.
By the close of business Sunday, four best-of-seven first-round series were determined.
No. 3 Milwaukee will play No. 6 Chicago in an East first-round series, and No. 4 Philadelphia will play No. 5 Toronto in another East matchup.
In the West, No. 3 Golden State will play No. 6 Denver and No. 4 Dallas will face No. 5 Utah in the first round.
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.
Avdija played in No. 82, scoring 12 points Sunday afternoon in the Wizards’ season-ending loss to Charlotte. Bridges, Bey, Powell and Looney all had games later Sunday.
It’ll mark 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.