Behind a masterful performance from Anthony Davis, who had 41 points, 20 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks, the Lakers won the inaugural in-season tournament with a 123-109 victory over the Indiana Pacers at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night.
LeBron James, who added 24 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists, was named tournament MVP.
“We’ve been doing it together for a long time, five years now, and we just figure it out,” Davis said afterward of his interplay with James. “We know each other’s tendencies, what we like to do. Obviously in crunch time, we get to our infamous pick-and-roll and it’s tough to stop.
“We feed off one another. Thursday, LeBron had it going. Tonight, it was me, and he still did his thing.”
These two teams entered Saturday’s championship game with matching 6-0 records in the in-season tournament, and did so employing radically different styles. The Lakers, behind the size and strength of James and Davis, punished opponents, entering the game having outscored them by more than 20 points per game. Indiana, meanwhile, had knocked off the four top seeds from last year’s Eastern Conference playoffs — the Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks — on their way to the title game behind the league’s fastest pace and best offense.
Not surprisingly, Saturday’s game played out with both teams leaning into those strengths. The Lakers, one of the league’s worst 3-point shooting teams, essentially gave up attempting them, failing to make one until Taurean Prince hit a corner 3 late in the third quarter, becoming the third team this season to fail to make a 3-pointer in a half. Instead, the Lakers dominated the Pacers inside, posting an 86-44 edge in points in the paint.
They also used their size and length on the perimeter to constantly hound Tyrese Haliburton, the breakout star of this tournament, who finished with 20 points and 11 assists but couldn’t match the impact he has had on games throughout this tournament.
“Yeah, we’re sick, frustrated,” Haliburton said. “We just got outplayed tonight from the start of the game to the end of the game. Just didn’t do the job on loose balls, didn’t rebound, didn’t get enough stops when needed. They just outplayed us, and it’s frustrating.
“Every team doesn’t have Anthony Davis and a bunch of 6-8, 6-9 wings, so there’s that, as well. Just understanding how different looks are going to come. This doesn’t have a regular-season feel at all. I’m used to playing LeBron whatever he plays, 30, 35 minutes. It felt like him and AD never came off the floor. It was like a playoff-type deal.”
Haliburton said playing in the higher-intensity games will motivate him.
“Just getting accustomed to that was good for me and makes me want to play some more games that have some meaning to them,” he said. “So handle the season the right way so I can get to the playoffs and feel that.”
Indiana, meanwhile, outscored the Lakers 30-6 from the 3-point line and, in a surprise, actually enjoyed a 29-27 edge at the free throw line, an area where Los Angeles normally dominates its opponents. But while the Pacers had an edge in 3-point shooting, they went 10-for-41, missing plenty of open looks that could’ve changed the tenor of the game.
It was the overwhelming size advantage inside for Los Angeles that proved to be the difference in the game. The driving force behind that was Davis, who seemingly did whatever he wanted throughout the game. That included Davis getting Myles Turner in foul trouble and eventually fouling him out of the game with 4:09 to go.
By then, the game had been put out of reach by Davis, who scored 10 straight points as part of a 13-0 run that gave Los Angeles its largest lead of the game at 115-99 with 3:11 remaining, sending the Lakers-heavy crowd into celebrations that lasted through the final buzzer.
“I just try to do everything I can to win a basketball game,” Davis said afterward. “Obviously, my teammates put me in a great position to be successful. Obviously, this is special for us, just winning the inaugural In-Season Tournament. But we want to also win the same thing in June.
“It’s a step in the right direction, obviously, but even though it’s a big performance, it’s another game and we’ve got to continue to get going starting back on Tuesday.”
Though it was scheduled as a neutral site game, the crowd Saturday night was overwhelmingly in favor of the Lakers, with Las Vegas roughly just four hours northeast of Los Angeles and typically a heavy Lakers town.
Despite winning the NBA Cup, the Lakers did not gain a victory in the NBA standings. Saturday’s game — which will ultimately be the 83rd of the season for the Lakers and Pacers — did not count as part of the league’s regular-season standings and none of the stats from the game will count toward regular-season totals, either.
What does count, though, is the Lakers becoming the first in-season tournament champions. The victory caps off a tournament that has accomplished what the league hoped it would over the past few weeks and has set itself up to be a permanent fixture on the NBA’s calendar moving forward.
“I don’t think it’s even about the MVP, it’s about us coming together to win this thing,” James told ESPN’s Malika Andrews during the trophy ceremony. “This is the [inaugural] in-season tournament. … Records will be broken, but one thing that will never be broken is to be the first to do something. And we’re the first champions of the in-season tournament, and nobody can ever top that, and it’s great to do it with a historical franchise and just a great cast of funny, engaged, competitive men over here.”