The Lakers, no strangers to trophies, add a new one.
By JOE VARDON Joe Vardon is a senior N.B.A. writer for The Athletic.
LAS VEGAS — LeBron James’s name is now on a new page of the N.B.A. record book, Anthony Davis looked like Wilt Chamberlain, and each Los Angeles Lakers player is $500,000 richer.
Behind 41 points and 20 rebounds from Davis, the Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers, 123-109, in the first in-season tournament championship game in league history. The N.B.A. Cup is in the hands of a franchise — and a lead star — with some real practice in raising trophies.
James, a four-time N.B.A. champion and most valuable player, a 19-time All-Star and, of course, the league’s career leading scorer, owns a title that Michael Jordan and Bill Russell never saw. They never had the chance, but that’s not James’s fault. Commissioner Adam Silver introduced the tournament this season, and James — who was named the N.B.A. Cup M.V.P. — raised his play to meet the moment, again.
In the finale, James finished with 24 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists, but he also tallied 61 points in the Lakers’ wins in the quarterfinal and semifinal games. He received 17 of a possible 25 first-place votes for M.V.P. honors, which covered the championship game and overall tournament.
“I feel like when we are on the floor together and we’re healthy, we know what we’re capable of doing,” James said, talking about the five seasons he has spent with Davis and the Lakers — a tenure that includes the 2020 N.B.A. title. “We’ve played too many games together, shared too many moments together, played in too many big moments together to fail each other. It’s been everything, like I said, especially at the later stage of my career.”
Davis’s points and rebounds would have been season highs, but neither the statistics nor the win (or, in Indiana’s case, the loss) from the tournament’s title game counted toward regular-season totals.
Davis, and the Lakers in general, owned the bright red paint. He added four blocks and shot 16 of 24 from the field, with rim-shaking dunks and accompanying scowls on full display.
The Lakers didn’t make a single 3-pointer for nearly 36 game minutes. And by the time it was over, Los Angeles had outscored the Pacers by an astounding 86-44 in the lane and outrebounded them by 55-32.
A 13-0 run that began with 5 minutes 50 seconds remaining sealed it for the Lakers. Davis scored the last 10 points in that stretch.
“We’ve been doing it together for a long time, five years now, and we just figure it out,” Davis said about playing with James. “We know each other’s tendencies, what we like to do. Obviously, in crunchtime, we get to our infamous pick-and-roll and it’s tough to stop.”
Austin Reaves, playing Saturday with an undisclosed illness, set what would have been a season high with 28 points off the Lakers bench. He said he might use his prize money to buy a membership to one of Los Angeles’s exclusive golf clubs. D’Angelo Russell, Reaves’s golfing buddy, added 13 points and 7 assists for the Lakers.
The Lakers are tied with the Boston Celtics for N.B.A. titles at 17 apiece. Can we count the in-season tournament as the temporary tiebreaker?
“Any time you can be the first to win or do anything or win anything, it’s cool,” Reaves said. “The money is obviously a good, extra bonus, but any time we get on the court and compete as a unit, we want to win regardless of the tournament or regular-season game. To be able to say that we won the first one is cool.”
James added: “We want to put it in perspective that it’s still December. We like where we are right now, but we want to continue to work on our habits, continue to get healthy as well. But I think right now where we are in December, I would take it.”
The Pacers were led by Tyrese Haliburton and Bennedict Mathurin, who each scored 20 points.
“We’re sick, frustrated,” Haliburton said. “We just got outplayed tonight from the start of the game to the end of the game. We’ve done some great things to get here, competed against some really good teams and battled, and you can’t let that happen for no reason.”
Indiana, which has never won an N.B.A. championship and hasn’t been to the playoffs in three seasons, couldn’t take enough advantage of the Lakers’ 2-of-13 shooting from 3-point range or their 20 turnovers.
“It was a tough game,” Pacers Coach Rick Carlisle said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game coming in. We did a lot of good things to hang around in the fourth quarter. Getting over the hump was hard.”
Saturday’s game — as close as 3 points in the fourth quarter — was the 67th in Silver’s inaugural tournament. The Lakers won all seven of their games, and the Pacers’ loss in the championship was their first.
The winning team earned $500,000 per player; the runnerup earned $200,000. Arena workers threw together a stage for the Lakers to stand on, and members of the local Boys & Girls Club of America put gold medals around the players’ necks. And then it was time for ski goggles and a Champagne fight in the bowels of T-Mobile Arena.
New York Times