LAS VEGAS — Lakers coach Darvin Ham said ahead of Saturday’s In-Season Tournament championship game between his team and the Indiana Pacers that he didn’t want to reveal too much of their strategy.
But the way the Lakers attacked the Pacers’ defense said everything that needed to be known about their gameplan: constantly attack the paint against an Indiana team that allows points in the paint at a league-worst rate (62.5 points per game).
And the strategy worked, with the Lakers beating the Pacers 123-109 at T-Mobile Arena to win the inaugural Tournament and NBA Cup – and roughly $7.25 million spread throughout the Lakers roster and additional monetary compensation for the coaching staff.
The Lakers attacked the heart of the Pacers’ defense repeatedly, scoring 86 points in the paint – more than they have in any other game this season – to make up for their lack of perimeter shooting (2 of 13 on 3-pointers).
And when they needed to create separation down the stretch, they kept finding ways to go inside to Anthony Davis (41 points, 20 rebounds, five assists and four blocks), who scored 10 consecutive points as part of a 13-0 Lakers run to give L.A. a 115-99 lead with 3:11 remaining.
“That was a Shaq-like dominant performance,” LeBron James said of Davis. “He was dominant. Big time.”
After James (24 points, 11 rebounds, four assists and two steals) assisted Davis on a layup to give the Lakers the game-high 16-point lead, the Lakers star duo let out simultaneous roars, signaling they both knew the game was fully in their hands.
James was named the In-Season Tournament MVP, which was selected by a panel of media and fan votes.
“It’s about us coming together, winning this thing,” James said. “Records will be broken, but what’ll never be broken is to be the first team to do something.”
Austin Reaves (season-high 28 points on 9-of-15 shooting) and D’Angelo Russell (13 points and seven assists) also scored in double figures for the Lakers.
The Lakers’ offensive gameplan also put several Pacers in foul trouble early, including starting Indiana big man Myles Turner, who fouled out with the Lakers up 109-99 with 4:09 in the fourth.
L.A. became the first team to win a game despite only making two or fewer 3-pointers since the Memphis Grizzlies on Feb. 3, 2020.
The Lakers’ defensive strategy of getting the ball out of Pacers star guard Tyrese Haliburton’s hands in pick-and-roll situations also worked. L.A. consistently sent two to the ball and trapped Haliburton. Haliburton still finished with 20 points (8-of-14 shooting) and 11 assists but didn’t find his rhythm until the second half.
Lakers players signed to standard NBA contracts receive $500,000 each while those on the Pacers team will receive $200,000. Two-way contract players receive half as much, so there’s roughly $4.5 million at stake. Every player on the Lakers also received a medal.
“When do we get our money? I don’t know,” James quipped postgame, referring to questions he received from teammates postgame. “I kind of do know, but I’m not going to tell them yet.”
Unlike previous tournament games, Saturday’s championship game won’t count in the regular-season statistics or standings, so both the Lakers and Pacers will play 83 games as part of the 82-game regular season.
The Lakers will get a couple of days off before returning to regular-season play, with their first matchup coming against the Mavericks in Dallas on Tuesday.
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