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Lakers vs. Pacers: LeBron James, Anthony Davis lead L.A. to inaugural NBA Cup

Lakers

The Los Angeles Lakers are the first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament champions after a hard-fought 123-109 victory over the Indiana Pacers. Anthony Davis led the way in this one with 41 points, 20 rebounds, five assists and four blocks, while LeBron James was named IST MVP for his performance over the entire event.

Though the Lakers led for nearly the entire game, the scrappy Pacers kept finding ways to hang around, and had the deficit down to three in the middle of the fourth quarter at 102-99. A few minutes later it was 115-99, as the Lakers responded with an immediate 13-0 run to put the game away.

Here are some key takeaways from the game:

Bully-ball to the extreme

Coming into this game, the story was the contrast in styles. The Pacers play the ultimate finesse game. They shoot 3’s, they play fast and they rarely defend. The Lakers are the opposite. They want to play physical basketball and dominate the paint without taking many 3’s. It became clear very quickly that the Lakers would be the team that dictated the terms of engagement. This was a bully-ball game.

The Lakers dominated it. They nearly doubled Indiana’s paint points — 86 to 44. The rebounding margin was almost as big: the Lakers won it 55 to 32. Indiana’s only reliable big man, Myles Turner, fouled out in the fourth quarter after shooting 3-of-11 and failing to earn a single block. Not every opponent is going to be as stylistically defined as the Pacers. Playoff opponents will be able to adjust to the Lakers’ size.

But if anything became clear in this game, it’s that the Lakers are better than any other team in the NBA at winning this, specific style of game. After all, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid both played Indiana in this tournament. Neither dominated inside as thoroughly as Anthony Davis did. — Sam Quinn

Lakers take Haliburton out of the game

After watching Tyrese Haliburton knock out the Celtics and Bucks with brilliant performances, the Lakers decided that wasn’t going to happen to them. Though Haliburton finished with 20 points and 11 assists on 8-of-14 shooting from the field, he was unable to have his usual impact on the game. The Lakers decided he wasn’t going to beat them, and he did not.

Using an aggressive approach, the Lakers sent multiple long, athletic defenders Haliburton’s way all night long, which forced him to give up the ball often much earlier than he would have preferred. While Haliburton is a more-than-willing passer, he likes to get downhill and draw the defense before either hitting his big man or kicking it out to shooters. Instead, he had to give it up early, which meant other Pacers were turned into decision makers, and that was a win for the Lakers.

This was just one game with higher stakes than usual, and the Lakers have some unique defensive personnel, but it will be interesting to see if any other teams try to replicate their defensive scheme against Haliburton. The Pacers simply didn’t look like their usual selves without their star point guard orchestrating everything. — Jack Maloney

A word for the Pacers’ bench

Many casual fans likely weren’t all that hip to Tyrese Haliburton prior to the Pacers’ In-Season Tournament run, so it’s safe to say that the likes of TJ McConnell, Aaron Nesmith and Isaiah Jackson were even less well-known. That should no longer be the case after what the Pacers’ second unit did en route to the championship.

McConnell put on a back-up point guard clinic by sneaking in for steals, offensive rebounds and old-man moves in the paint. Nesmith hit huge shots down the stretch against the Celtics, then guarded Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James in consecutive games. Jackson, meanwhile, held his own against a stream of elite big men such as Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez and Anthony Davis.

The vast majority of NBA coverage is, understandably, focused on the stars, which is why the IST is going to be a launching pad for Haliburton. The same can’t be said for the Pacers’ bench crew, but the fact that they got a ton of shine on national TV for a week was a pretty cool aspect of the event. And, hey, a nice bonus check doesn’t hurt either. — Jack Maloney

A dry-run for the playoffs

The In-Season Tournament gave teams a rather rare opportunity to play playoff-style basketball in the winter. Obviously plenty can change between now and the spring, but it’s always worthwhile to see who a coach trusts in big games. Darvin Ham gave us a glimpse into his thought process there, and the answer, based on our pre-season expectations, is pretty surprising.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves were obviously big-game closers. D’Angelo Russell, given his stature and contract, was always likely to land in one of those closing slots as well. But the fifth player in that lineup? That was Cam Reddish, who played 33 big minutes in the tournament final and had a team-best +24 point-differential.

Reddish has had a very strong year for the Lakers overall. He’s been their best point-of-attack defender, and while his offense has been hit-or-miss, the degree to which he’s improved as an all-around player cannot be overstated. This was a player who couldn’t even get into the rotation for the Knicks. Now he’s doing all of the little things for a bonafide contender. The Lakers have had plenty of success stories with minimum-salary free agents in recent years. Reddish appears to be their latest winner. — Sam Quinn

LeBron James wins first ever In-Season Tournament MVP after leading Lakers to NBA Cup win

LeBron James has won the first ever In-Season Tournament MVP award after his Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers, 123-109, to win the inaugural NBA Cup. When commissioner Adam Silver handed him the trophy, he joked that it “didn’t come with a franchise,” in reference to James’ long-stated desire to own an expansion team in Las Vegas. Instead, the greatest player of his generation will have to settle for another trophy in his case.

LeBron James

The 21-year NBA veteran finished the tournament averaging 26.4 points, eight rebounds and 7.6 assists in seven total tournament games, but the four-time regular-season MVP saved his best for Las Vegas. When the Lakers faced off with the New Orleans Pelicans in Thursday’s semifinal round, James scored 30 points on 9-of-12 shooting in only 23 minutes of play. He wasn’t quite as dominant on Saturday, but his 24 points and 11 rebounds were critical as the Lakers pulled away from Indiana.

The race for MVP was dramatic until the end. Throughout the tournament, James’ chief rival for MVP was Pacers’ star Tyrese Haliburton, who improbably led Indiana to the tournament final against a loaded Eastern Conference field. The Pacers beat Eastern Conference favorites Boston and Milwaukee to reach the title match, but they just didn’t have enough against the Lakers on Saturday.

The biggest reason for that was Anthony Davis, who made a late push of his own for the MVP award. He dominated Indiana with 41 points, 20 rebounds, five assists and four blocks in the final. James called the performance from his star teammate “Shaq-like.”

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