NEW YORK — The Celtics came from 17 points down to beat the Nets 95-90 in preseason action on Sunday, but those weren’t the numbers everyone was looking at.
Instead, it was those on the clock.
The game lasted just one hour and 58 minutes, thanks to the NBA experimenting with a 44-minute format that saw the teams play 11-minute quarters, with one mandatory timeout that normally takes place in both the second and fourth quarters eliminated in an effort to tighten things up.
Not that anyone really noticed.
“No, not really,” said Nets head coach Lionel Hollins, when asked if the game felt shorter. “When you’re coaching and I look up there and when we’re already to the first [mandatory] time out, that was kind of surprising. That was the only time it seemed like it was quick. Other than that, I didn’t really notice it.”
“You noticed it a little bit when you are subbing at the start of quarters, but I thought the flow with the one less time out was actually a little bit better in the second and fourth,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said. “I didn’t notice it a whole lot, and I don’t know how much impact it had on the game.”
To a man, players on both sides echoed those sentiments.
What did impact things, at least on the Nets side, was fatigue stemming from the team’s recent preseason trip to China; Hollins, Andrei Kirilenko and Mason Plumlee were among those who said as much. The Nets led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter, before the Celtics stormed back to take the lead in the third, during a period where Brooklyn was unusually sloppy and committed seven turnovers.
The gimmick didn’t have anything to do with the outcome, which is likely a good thing if the league is going to expand plans to tinker with the format in the future. Statistically, a few guys were still able to log above average performances — Jared Sullinger finished with 21 points and 19 rebounds, Jarrett Jack had 17 points in 19 minutes off the bench, and Jerome Jordan continued his strong bid to make Brooklyn’s roster by finishing with 17 points on 7-of-7 shooting, to go along with six rebounds.
But while shorter games would fit better into television time slots — which is no doubt an important consideration, especially in light of how much money the league’s broadcast partners agreed to shell out in the latest rights deal — that appears to be the only positive that would be accomplished.
Hollins is among the head coaches who believe that shorter games wouldn’t lessen the wear and tear on the league’s star players, or even those simply penciled in to be in the starting lineup. Most teams would continue to ride their best players, and the result would be four fewer minutes available for the reserve players to earn. That could create an issue for the players union, since playing fewer minutes would mean reserves would have less of an impact, and that could ultimately translate to a similarly decreased value of their future contracts.
But that’s all speculation for now, and is likely to remain so for quite some time.
One preseason contest doesn’t provide nearly enough information to consider making such a drastic decision. While the overall impact of a shorter game seemed fairly minimal today, there are unforeseen issues that could arise when a larger data set is available to be studied.