Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023 | 9:24 p.m.
Anthony Davis pounded on his chest and yelled into the crowd during a game-clinching run near the end of the NBA In-Season Tournament championship game Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena on the North end of the court.
It was the same spot where teammate LeBron James had earlier raised his arms up and requested noise from the crowd when the Los Angeles Lakers first started creating separation from the Indiana Pacers.
The Lakers’ superstar duo brought the house down to conclude the inaugural event, strong-arming the Indiana Pacers 123-109 to win the first-ever NBA Cup.
“Records will be broken, but one thing that will never be broken is being the first to do something,” James said in an on-court ceremony after the victory. “We’re the first champions of the In-Season Tournament, and it’s great to do it with such a historic franchise and it’s even better to do it with such a great group.”
The veteran Lakers never trailed after the opening minute as the upstart Pacers struggled with the physical tone of the game implemented by James and especially Davis.
James was the show-stopper in Thursday’s semifinal victory over the Pelicans and claimed overall tournament MVP honors, but it was Davis’ turn to take over the spotlight against the Pacers.
The 6-foot-10 big man finished with a season-high 41 points and 20 rebounds, relentlessly attacking the Pacers’ lack of size.
“That was a (Shaquille O’Neal)-like dominant performance,” James said. “We had the big fella sitting down there by our bench, so I think AD was inspired.”
Although Los Angeles maintained the lead for virtually the entire the game, it could never really pull away from Indiana. The Pacers hung around despite the Lakers swarming star point guard Tyrese Haliburton to hold him in check — with a relatively muted 21 points and 11 assists — until they finally made their move midway through the fourth quarter.
Haliburton’s top sidekick, center Myles Turner, hit a 3-point shot with six minutes remaining to make the score 102-99. Lakers coach Darvin Ham called timeout and apparently settled down his team from there.
Los Angeles went on a 13-0 run with Davis scoring 12 of the points, leading to his viral chest-thumping moment where he declared, “I’m him.”
“It’s a huge shot in the arm,” Ham said of winning the NBA Cup. “We’re thankful to (NBA Commissioner Adam Silver) and the rest of the NBA brass for coming up with this idea. It was a brilliant idea to infuse this type of intensity and energy into the season this early…It definitely goes a long way towards us continuing to build our momentum and build our cohesiveness and continuity.”
Going back to the group stages, the Lakers finished 7-0 in the tournament. There were major questions going into the season whether the players would buy into the new idea, but most of them quickly came around.
That could largely be credited to James, the oldest and most famous player in the NBA, as he embraced the tournament and decided the title was worth going after. The $500,000 winning check to all players on the winning roster wasn’t bad for an incentive either.
“My youngest over here, my rookies, my second-year guys, some hadn’t experienced playoff basketball and some of their paychecks are not as big as some of the old guys on the team,” James said.
“The first question they asked me when I came off was, ‘So, when do we get our money?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know.’ But I kind of do know. I’m just not going to tell them just yet.”
They could have just asked Silver, who presented James with his MVP trophy after thanking Las Vegas for hosting the inaugural event.
“I’m sorry but it doesn’t come with a franchise,” Silver joked to James in reference to the star’s steadfast desire to one day own a team in Las Vegas.
The local expansion team may still be years away, but the three days the In-Season Tournament were stationed here further showcased the league’s commitment to the area. The NBA gave away tickets to hundreds of UNLV students and bussed them to Saturday’s championship game, where it shared a pregame message of solidarity with the school following the on-campus shooting earlier this week.
Children from the Boys & Girls Club of Southern Nevada placed the medals around the Lakers’ necks as part of the championship celebration. James stopped the elementary-aged boy assigned to him for a quick autograph to the t-shirt before leaving the court.
After that, James danced on a stage in the middle of his teammates as gold confetti fell onto them and hoisted both his NBA Cup and MVP trophy to the sky.
“I don’t think it’s even about winning the MVP,” James said. “It’s about us coming together and winning this thing.”