NBA Cup goes to Lakers as league’s first in-season champions

AP photo by Ian Maule / Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) blocks a shot by Indiana Pacers forward Bruce Brown during the first half of Saturday night's showdown in Las Vegas for the NBA Cup.
AP photo by Ian Maule / Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) blocks a shot by Indiana Pacers forward Bruce Brown during the first half of Saturday night's showdown in Las Vegas for the NBA Cup.

LAS VEGAS — As NBA commissioner Adam Silver prepared to hand LeBron James the MVP trophy of the league's inaugural in-season tournament, he cautioned that "it doesn't come with a franchise."

James bent over in laughter, but he has been serious about wanting to own an NBA expansion team in Las Vegas.

For now, he'll more than settle for the individual honor and the NBA Cup after scoring 24 points and adding 11 rebounds Saturday night to help the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers 123-109 in the tourney final.

"My enthusiasm about being here post career, bringing a team here has not changed," James said. "The fans are amazing here. They have everything already: WNBA team, they have a baseball team coming in soon, NFL team, hockey team, F1 was just here. This is a place that loves great attractions, and I think the NBA will be another great addition to this city."

As well as James played Saturday, the star was teammate Anthony Davis, who had 41 points and 20 rebounds — numbers that would have been season highs if they counted. This is the only game in the tournament that doesn't figure in the standings or statistics.

Davis shot 16-of-24, had five assists and blocked four shots.

"They're a hell of a one-two punch," Lakers coach Darvin Ham said about James and Davis. "That one or two could be either one of them on any given night. At the end of the day, they know how to take it to the next level when everything is on the line."

  photo  AP photo by Ian Maule / Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James lifts the the NBA Cup while celebrating with his teammates after they defeated the Indiana Pacers 123-109 on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
 
 

Los Angeles won the historic title because the two headliners received plenty of help.

Austin Reaves scored 28 points, D'Angelo Russell added 13 points and Cam Reddish set the tone defensively by limiting the damage by Indiana's Tyrese Haliburton, who emerged as one of the faces of this tournament. He had 20 points and 11 assists against the Lakers, often passing to a teammate rather than trying to force the action.

"I felt like he was one of the best players on the court with the way he defended and really changed the game on that end of the floor," Reaves said of Reddish, who also scored nine points.

Indiana's Bennedict Mathurin added 20 points and Aaron Nesmith had 15.

In addition to taking home a trophy, Los Angeles players each made $500,000, and the Pacers received $200,000 apiece. Players on two-way deals take home half those amounts.

The tournament and the title game had a combination of a NBA playoff and one-and-done NCAA tournament kind of atmosphere, and the Pacers and Lakers played as if their seasons were on the line.

Los Angeles making it Las Vegas where it was essentially the home team before a sellout crowd played like it had been here before. The situation was different for the Pacers, who are still trying to prove they are a championship-level team.

"We just got outplayed tonight from the start of the game to the end of the game," Haliburton said. "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. It's funny because everybody says this has the NCAA tournament feel, but after a game like that you're sitting in the locker room going, 'Most of us ain't graduating.' We play on Monday."

The Lakers led most of the game, though Indiana kept in striking distance until Los Angeles went on a 15-3 run late in the fourth quarter to turn in a 100-96 lead into a 115-99 advantage.

"Our guys got a real taste of what the elevated stage is all about," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "It's so important to have this experience, to feel the intensity, to feel the glare and the glow and to find out what it means to be totally together in an effort to conquer it. We conquered a lot of challenges along the way. This one tonight was a little too steep."

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