The Los Angeles Lakers went down in history as the first NBA team ever to win the inaugural in-season tournament, defeating the Indiana Pacers 123-109.
The team went undefeated in their seven games in the tournament, winning five games by more than 10 points; the most decisive victories being their 131-99 victory against the Utah Jazz, their 133-89 victory against the New Orleans Pelicans, and finally, their championship victory against the Pacers.
According to the NBA, all games in the in-season tournament count for the regular season – except the championship.
Had it counted, it would mean season-high stats for Lakers power forward Anthony Davis. Davis scored a whopping 41 points, 20 rebounds, and 5 assists, more points and rebounds than any game he’s played all season.
Davis is second in rebounds so far this season, with an average of 12.6 per game. He is also the third in blocks.
In a postgame interview alongside Davis, LeBron James said his enthusiasm about Las Vegas remains.
“My enthusiasm about being here post-career, bringing a team here, has not changed,” James said.
James has recently expressed a desire to own an NBA franchise in Las Vegas.
Because the pair have played together for a long time, Davis said he and James work well together.
“We’ve been doing it together for a long time, five years now, and we just figure it out. We know each other’s tendencies, what we like to do,” Davis said.
“But it just wasn’t us two, obviously the whole team, Austin [Reaves], DLo [D’Angelo Russell], everybody contributed tonight,” Davis said.
James pointed to their defence as an important factor in their victory.
“As of today, I like the way we played in the semi-finals on Thursday and then tonight. Our defence intensity – in order for us to win, and win at the highest level, we have to defend and we’ve been doing that over the last few weeks,” James said.
Davis, who led the team with four blocks, said his performance helped the team reach the finish line.
“Any time I step on the floor, I know I’m the anchor of the defence,” he said. “Giving guys the freedom to press up and get some ball pressure and if they get beat, I’m there at the rim to alter the shot or block it. But that’s my job,” he said.
James said Davis has meant everything to his career, especially in its later years.
“To be able to get a young, hungry alpha male to go out there and just do the things that he does,” James said. “It’s definitely giving me an opportunity to be able to not only watch as he continues to grow but also be able to try to inspire him as well as he continues to grow in his career and vice versa,”
James said the return of shooting guard Cam Reddish helped them significantly.
“Not too many people talk about it but one of the biggest shots of tonight’s game was, they made they run, they cut it to three, and Cam hits that big-time three in front of our bench to put it up six. And we didn’t go back after that,” James said.
Because of their overall performance in the tournament, James was voted the most valuable player (MVP) of the event.
Indiana Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton had a chance to play against his childhood idol, James. Haliburton chuckled and said James was like the “final boss” of a video game.
“To be able to compete against him in the championship, it’s kind of like a storybook a little bit, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun,” Haliburton told reporters in a pre-game interview. “But that’s the great part about being in the NBA is getting to compete against your idols on a nightly basis, so I really look forward to that,”
Haliburton said nobody expected his team to make the championship game, and that they were “not supposed to be here.”
He said this tournament has been a “storybook run” for the team.
“We’ve been probably looked at to lose the majority of our tournament games. The Philly game, we weren’t supposed to win, the Boston game, we definitely weren’t supposed to win, Milwaukee, we definitely weren’t supposed to win,” Haliburton said.
It was also a great night for sophomore Pacers shooting guard Bennedict Mathurin, who scored 20 points and 2 rebounds.
Right at the buzzer at the end of the third quarter, he scored a three-pointer that brought the game to 82-90, tightening the Lakers’ lead.
According to Sports Illustrated, Haliburton was named to the All-Tournament Team for In-Season Tournament performance.
This was alongside James, Davis, Kevin Durant, and Giannis Antetokounmpo, all among the NBA’s best stat-wise.