2021 NBA Playoffs: Tatum Goes For 50, James Comes Up Big In The Clutch

After a shortened 72-game season, the 2021 NBA Playoffs are underway. Well, they aren't completely underway. Unlike seasons prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a play-in tournament before the 16-team tournament is set. Led by the league office, the second annual postseason play-in tournament set up showdowns featuring some of the NBA's biggest stars like Bradley Beal, Anthony Davis, LeBron James, Jayson Tatum, LaMelo Ball, Ja Morant and Steph Curry. Adding to the excitement of this year's postseason, there is no clear favorite. From the Brooklyn Nets to the Utah Jazz, the 2021 NBA Championship is completely up for grabs.

Play-In Tournament Guidelines

The rules for the 2021 NBA play-in tournament are simple. In each conference, the top six seeds are set and guaranteed playoff spots in the 16-team playoff bracket. Teams that finished anywhere seven and ten in their respective conferences are set to compete for the seventh and eighth seeds in each conference. The seventh seed plays the eighth seed and the ninth seed plays the tenth seed. The team that wins the game between the seventh and eighth seed will earn the seventh seed. Meanwhile, the loser of the seventh and eighth seed matchup will play the winner of the ninth and tenth seed play-in game. From there, the team that wins that game will earn the eighth seed. Actually, I lied. It's not all that simple. Watch the video above if any of this sounds confusing.

Play-In Tournament: Charlotte Hornets vs. Indiana Pacers

Result: Pacers def. Hornets, 144-117

Scoring Leader: Oshae Brissett - 23 points

Assists Leader: Domantas Sabonis - 9 assists

Rebounding Leader: Domantas Sabonis - 21 rebounds

Next Up: Hornets Eliminated, Pacers vs. Wizards (May 20)

The Indiana Pacers headed out to play the Charlotte Hornets as major underdogs due to a litany of injuries. Most notably, Caris LeVert was forced to sit out due to COVID-19 protocols. However, it would be hard to tell they were shorthanded by the end of the first quarter. Led by Damontas Sabonis, the Pacers shot out to a 16-point lead in the first quarter never looked back. Part of Indiana's success came from the team's ability to get everyone involved. With eight players scoring in double figures, it was a complete team win.

“Everybody got going," Pacers Guard Malcolm Brogdon said after Tuesday's 27-point win.

“It's the best when all your teammates get to score and have fun. I thought we had fun tonight and that was the best part."

Play-In Tournament: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

Result: Celtics def. Wizards, 118-100

Scoring Leader: Jayson Tatum - 50 points

Assists Leader: Marcus Smart - 6 assists

Rebounding Leader: Russell Westbrook - 15 rebounds

Next Up: Wizards vs. Pacers (May 20), Celtics vs. Nets (May 22)

Heading into the 2020-2021 NBA Regular Season, many commentators, analysts and insiders believed that the Boston Celtics would have a chance to compete with the Brooklyn Nets, Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks for the top spot in the Eastern Conference. However, injuries, trades and poor performances lowered the Celtics to the seventh seed. Outside of the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics emerged as the most unlikely participant in the 2021 NBA play-in tournament. On the other end, the Wizards stepped onto the court with little to lose. After Russell Westbrook was traded for John Wall, many fans believed the team was destined for the lottery. Somehow, Westbrook and Beal were able to guide the Wizards to its highest finish in more than three years.

Coming into the play-in tournament with different expectations, each team had a lot to play for. In the first half, things remained pretty even and the Wizards pushed ahead to a slim, two-point lead. However, things changed in the second half when Jayson Tatum and the Celtics shot out to a 10-point lead. Tatum finished the game with 50 points and the Celtics walked away with an 18-point win.

Play-In Tournament: Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs

Result: Grizzlies def. Spurs, 100-96

Scoring Leader: Dillon Brooks - 24 points

Assists Leader: Dejounte Murray - 11 assists

Rebounding Leader: Jonas Valanciunas - 23 rebounds

Next Up: Spurs Eliminated, Grizzlies vs. Warriors (May 21)

Ja Morant and the Memphis Grizzlies had a chance to earn the eighth seed on Sunday when they faced off against the Golden State Warriors. However, an all-time great performance from Steph Curry pushed Memphis back to the ninth seed. As a result, they need to pick up two wins in order to get a first-round date with the top-seeded Utah Jazz.

Memphis started its play-in campaign strong by coasting to a 20-point lead early in the second half. As expected, Greg Popovich and company came back late in the second half, but the Grizzlies were able to hold on to a seven-point advantage heading into the break. In the second half, Jonas Valanciunas appeared to be the difference-maker. Pouring in 23 points and grabbing 23 boards, the Memphis big man dominated down low. Now, he must bring that same intensity to a rematch against Curry and the Warriors.

"We still have one more in front of us," he said.

"Really important. The same importance as tonight. It's going to be do or die. That's how we build our confidence. That's how we build our experience."

Play-In Tournament: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors

Result: Lakers def. Warriors, 103-100

Scoring Leader: Steph Curry - 37 points

Assists Leader: LeBron James - 10 assists

Rebounding Leader: Kevon Looney - 13 rebounds

Next Up: Warriors vs. Grizzlies (May 21), Lakers vs. Suns (May 23)

When it was announced that the 2020-2021 NBA regular season would be followed by a play-in tournament, few expected the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers to be participating in the tournament. However, Klay Thompson's season-ending ACL injury and LeBron James's in-season injuries have landed both teams in this position.

As expected, these two teams performed at their highest level when the lights were the brightest. Curry's 37 point performance put his team in a position to win, but he wasn't the one who hit a game-winning three-point shot as time nearly expired on the game clock. With just three seconds to go, James hit an out of rhythm three-point shot from deep as Curry attempted to contest the 6'9 big man. Enjoying a three-point lead, the Lakers headed back down to the other end of the floor in hopes of preventing Curry from getting off a game-tying three-point shot. And that's exactly what they did. Tough defense from Anthony Davis prevented Steph Curry from getting the ball on an in-bounds play as time ran out.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

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