LeBron, Davis power Lakers to inaugural NBA Cup crown

10th December 2023

Lebron was crowned the MVP of the tournament.

LeBron James lifts his MVP Award. PHOTO| AFP
LeBron James lifts his MVP Award. PHOTO| AFP
SUMMARY
  • Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers 123-109 to win the first edition of the NBA in-season tournament.
  • They out-scored the Pacers 86-44 in the paint and got the better of them on the boards 55-32.
  • The Lakers completed an unbeaten run through the tournament, which started with all 30 NBA teams drawn into six groups for round-robin play.

The Los Angeles Lakers, fueled by a monster game from Anthony Davis, beat the upstart Indiana Pacers 123-109 to win the first edition of the NBA in-season tournament on Sunday.

Davis scored 41 points and pulled down 20 rebounds while superstar LeBron James added 24 points and 11 rebounds for the 17-time NBA champion Lakers, who added the first NBA Cup to the club trophy case.

For the league's all-time leading scorer James, it was a brand-new accolade in the 21st season of a career that has included four NBA titles and four NBA Most Valuable Player awards as the 38-year-old got the nod as MVP of the tournament.

"We made history," James said as he celebrated on court with his teammates. "Anytime you're on the right side of history, you take it. The first in-season tournament belongs to the Los Angeles Lakers."

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Led by Davis and James, the Lakers out-muscled the Pacers, never letting them get their high-octane offense to fully fire.

They out-scored the Pacers 86-44 in the paint and got the better of them on the boards 55-32.

"We wanted to be the first to win this," Davis said. "We know it's not the real thing, but we keep taking steps in the right direction. The first to do it, we'll take it."

The Lakers completed an unbeaten run through the tournament, which started with all 30 NBA teams drawn into six groups for round-robin play.

All games, except Sunday's final, counted toward the regular-season standings, and James said the Lakers' performance as the event ramped up the intensity in what can be a lackluster part of the long NBA season would only help them when the time comes to make a playoff push.

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"I think every moment we grew," James said. "The in-season tournament, 7-0, it's been high-intensity games and we've just grown.

"I feel like guys have felt a lot more comfortable in their roles. We've had a pretty good understanding of rotations. You know who you're going to be playing with and you know what you guys want to do out on the floor."

The Pacers also came into the Cup title game unbeaten, having toppled the top two Eastern Conference Teams, Boston and Milwaukee, in the quarter-finals and semi-finals.

Pacers star Tyrese Haliburton was a revelation, but his 20 points and 11 assists on Saturday weren't nearly enough against the determined and experienced Lakers.

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"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."

The Lakers, backed by a partisan crowd at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, led most of the game, but Indiana managed to keep it close until Los Angeles put together a 13-0 scoring run late in the fourth quarter to finally put the game away.

Davis added five assists and four blocked shots - even though he appeared to be hindered by discomfort in the hip or groin after a scramble in the second half.

The Lakers, fueled by 17 points and 11 rebounds from Davis, led 65-60 at halftime. Austin Reaves piled up 22 of his 28 points off the bench in the first half.

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Los Angeles made just two of 13 three-point attempts, but their dominance inside meant it didn't matter.

They held the Pacers, who came in averaging more than 128 points per game, to 36.8 percent shooting.

The Lakers pushed the lead to 11 three times in the third quarter but the Pacers, true to form, wouldn't go away.

An alley-oop dunk by Davis, fed by James, put Los Angeles up 90-79 with 35.5 seconds left in the third. But the Pacers pounced on a James turnover with 2.8sec left in the period and Mathurin made a three-pointer that cut the Lakers' lead to 90-82 heading into the final period.

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A 7-2 run to start the fourth had the Pacers right back in it, but the Lakers just wouldn't be denied.

Now, Davis said, they'll get back to the more familiar rhythm of the regular season.

"Even though it's a big performance, it's another game and we've got to continue to get going starting back on Tuesday," he said.