The Los Angeles Lakers went 4-0 in group play, going on to beat the Phoenix Suns in the quarterfinals and the New Orleans Pelicans in the semifinals, advancing to the championship game for the inaugural season of the NBA’s In-Season Tournament.
L.A. completely dominated New Orleans on Thursday, propelling them to the championship against the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers posed a huge challenge for a climbing Lakers defense, as Indiana is the No. 1 ranked offense in the league, led by rising star Tyrese Haliburton.
The Lakers have no issues in this one though as they cruised to a 123-109 victory to win the first NBA Cup.
Indiana wasted no time getting the ball out fast after a miss as Haliburton found Buddy Hield in transition for an open 3 for the game’s first basket. But, the Lakers showed they’re not scared to push the pace either, getting a rebound and finding Anthony Davis in transition for a dunk giving the Lakers their first lead 7-5.
With Austin Reaves playing under the weather, D’Angelo Russell came out aggressively attacking Bruce Brown, who picked up two quick fouls. Davis asserted himself early with a quick 12 points on 6-for-6 shooting, giving Los Angeles a six-point lead at 26-20.
The Lakers’ size was on display in the first quarter as they got downhill and attacked the paint frequently, dominating the points in the paint 26 to 12, which resulted in a 34-29 lead after one with L.A. shooting 51.9% from the field and containing the Pacers to 37.5%.
LeBron James was simply overpowering Aaron Nesmith to begin the second quarter, scoring ten points all in the paint. Reaves was his sidekick scoring 11 points in nine minutes, playing with a lot of energy and looking to be aggressive despite being ill. That kept the Lakers up eight with six minutes left in the half.
Despite Davis dropping 17 points and 11 rebounds with Reaves scoring 22, Indiana hung around by hitting five 3s to the Lakers’ zero and seven more free throw attempts. It was an impressive first-half effort nonetheless by L.A., leading 65-60 against an explosive Pacers offense.
After getting some extended rest due to foul trouble, James started the second half with a 3-point play then Davis attacked Miles Turner the ensuing possession to give the Lakers a ten-point lead, 70-60. With the NBA Cup and $500,000 on the line, James and Davis looked motivated to be the first team to win the In-Season Tournament.
Turner picked up his fourth foul and Davis continued to be active down low with Isaiah Jackson on him, totaling four offensive rebounds. Unfortunately, he seemed to suffer a groin injury, clearly not looking 100 percent, but still gave it a go due to the circumstances of this game.
The Lakers’ 3-point shooting was still non-existent, shooting 0-for-10, but continued to attack the paint every single possession. However, when James took a rest after going up 84-73, the Pacers cut the lead to five with some careless turnovers. Thankfully, L.A. restored order with Taurean Prince hitting the team’s first 3-pointer and James throwing a lob to Davis.
Again, the Pacers would not go away after the Lakers extended the lead back to 11, Bennedict Mathurin hit a running 3-pointer at the buzzer, cutting it to eight, 90-82 going to the fourth quarter. Indiana did not let up to begin the fourth with a 7-2 run, cutting the lead to three, 92-89 after a T.J. McConnell inbound steal and Mathurin layup.
It seemed that the Lakers would have an answer to each scoring surge as a Cam Reddish breakout dunk and corner 3-pointer. Davis would continue to add to his monster night with two free-throws, a thunderous dunk off a feed from Russell and two more free-throws extending the lead to 12.
Davis would crush any hopes of a comeback as the Pacers simply had no answer to him and James inside.
That being said, the Lakers became the first team to win the In-Season Tournament and were clearly motivated to win it all. To hold Indiana to below 40 percent is massive feat and perhaps is a precursor to chasing the illusive 18th championship.
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