LeBron James: Lakers first In-Season Tournament champs, ‘and nobody can ever top that’

The Los Angeles Lakers won the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament championship, defeating the Indiana Pacers, 123-109, in Las Vegas on Saturday, with the Player of the Game being Anthony Daviswho dominated on both ends with 41 points, 20 rebounds, five assists, and four blocks.LeBron James

Notably, Austin Reaves, who came into the matchup as a game-time decision with an illness, had 28 points off 9-of-15 shooting from the field and was 10-of-12 from the free throw line.

LeBron James, 38 for another few weeks, contributed 24 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists, and was named the first NBA Cup MVP. It was evident LeBron put his full effort into the In-Season Tournament, as he averaged 26.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 7.6 assists through the Group stage, quarterfinals, semifinals, and championship. 

“I don’t think it’s about the MVP, I think it’s about us coming together and winning this thing,” James told reporters. “It’s the inauguration of the In-Season Tournament… records will be broken. But one thing that will never be broken is being the first to do something, and we are the first champions of the In-Season Tournament, and nobody can ever top that.” 

Coming into Saturday, the Pacers (12-9) and Lakers (14-9) were each undefeated in the tournament. The Pacers featured a young scrappy lineup, which had to defeat four of the top Eastern Conference teams (Bucks, Celtics, 76ers, Cavaliers) on their way to the championship game. On the other hand, the Lakers coasted to the tournament finals, with an average margin of victory of 20+ points through their first six games. 

Early on, the Lakers displayed their size advantage against the Pacers, who actually give up the most points in the paint in the entire league this season. With that in mind, the matchup played in the Lakers’ favor, as it was evident that their game plan from tip-off was to attack the weaker Pacers’ interior defense. Certainly, the size and strength of the Lakers allowed them to play “bully ball,” dominating the paint with 86 points, while the Pacers were only able to score 44 points in the paint. 

On the other hand, the Pacers have one of the best perimeter defenses in the NBA, giving up the least amount of 3-pointers to opponents, and this was seen with their ability to totally shut down the Lakers from beyond the arc. That is, the Lakers’ first three of the game didn’t come until one minute left in the third quarter, when Taurean Prince hit a 22-foot corner three. However, the Pacers also struggled shooting, as they missed many open looks, and ended up only shooting 10-of-41 from deep, while the Lakers finished 2-of-13. 

By all means, the Lakers were able to overcome a poor shooting night, as the length of their frontcourt was able to overpower the Pacers’ defense. Towards the end of the 4th quarter, the Lakers started to break away, as Myles Turner fouled out of the game with four minutes left, and this just so happened to be during a 13-0 Lakers’ run, which included 10 straight points scored by Davis. 

The stats of this game will not count towards the regular season, so the outcome will not affect the NBA season standings. Nevertheless, the win certainly will go down in history, as the Lakers now become the first and only NBA In-Season Tournament champs.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham elaborated on the meaningfulness of the tournament.

“It’s a huge shot in the arm. And you know we are thankful to Mr. [Adam] Silver and the rest of the NBA brass for coming up with this idea,” Ham stated. “I think it’s a brilliant idea. To infuse this type of intensity and energy into the season this early, we are totally thankful, and it definitely goes a long way in us continuing to build our rhythm, to build our cohesiveness and continuity.”

After receiving his MVP trophy, LeBron was asked why he was so locked in throughout this tournament, and the 21-season veteran pointed out, “Cause my youngins, my rookies, my second-year guys … Some of their paychecks are not as equipped as some of the older guys on our team.”

To point out, every player on the Lakers roster and head coach Ham, will each receive the highly coveted $500,000 bonus reward for winning the event. Ultimately, this means that the three Lakers players who are on two-way contracts (Colin Castleton, Alex Fudge, D’Moi Hodge) essentially doubled their salaries from $559k to $1.09 million after the team’s triumphant victory in the first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament.

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