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NBA In-Season Tournament Championship: LeBron, Lakers lift inaugural NBA Cup

The inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament concluded on Saturday night, when the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers 123-109 at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. 

Lakers forward LeBron James, 38, was named the tournament MVP following his impressive performances in earlier rounds while Anthony Davis stole the show in the final with 41 points and 20 rebounds. 

Below we detail how both sides made the final and how the climax played out, as well as taking a look at the tournament itself and whether it was a success in its first year. 

Routes to the final

The Lakers topped a group containing the Phoenix Suns, Utah Jazz, Memphis Grizzlies and Portland Trail Blazers without losing a game and posting a point differential of +74. 

They then beat the Suns again in the quarterfinals (106-103) before thrashing the New Orleans Pelicans 133-89 in the semis to set up a final with Indiana. 

The Pacers also went unbeaten in the group stage, leading the way in a section including the Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons. 

A quarterfinal triumph over the Boston Celtics (122-112), the pre-tournament favourites at +800, followed before they dispatched the team with the second-lowest odds before the curtain raiser, the Milwaukee Bucks (+850), 128-119, in the semifinals.

Read more: NBA In-Season Tournament results, format, prize money, and more

Dominant Davis key to Lakers’ success

The final of the inaugural In-Season Tournament was played on Saturday night in Las Vegas, where the Lakers prevailed 123-109 over the Pacers in the only match of the competition which is not counted towards regular-season records. 

The side from Los Angeles outscored their opponents in every quarter bar the second, where each team put 31 on the board, and were helped hugely by the performance of their Center Anthony Davis. 

The former Pelicans star put up 41 points, managed four blocks and registered 20 rebounds as he dominated the paint in the final, giving Indiana’s Center Myles Turner a torrid time throughout. 

Tournament MVP LeBron James also impressed with 24 points and 11 rebounds while Austin Reaves’ spark of energy off the bench cannot be underestimated, as he scored 28 points as the Lakers’ sixth man. 

Perhaps most surprising was the fact that Darvin Ham managed to coach his side to victory while only attempting 13 three-pointers and making just two of those. 

The Pacers attempted 41 by comparison, which perhaps highlights just how important Davis’ presence in the paint was in securing the win for the Lakers, who were +1200 to lift the NBA Cup before the tournament’s start. 

Read more: LeBron James wins first ever In-Season Tournament MVP

No Haliburton heroics for Indiana

Tyrese Haliburton has firmly put himself in all-NBA and, potentially, MVP conversations (+2000) in recent weeks without his immense playmaking ability, low turnover-rate and tendency to shoot accurately on a high number of attempts. 

Going into the final, Indiana’s Point Guard was top of the tournament MVP Tracker, having posted stats of 28.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 13.4 apg, 1.6 spg, 50.5 FG% in the competition, however he could not replicate that level of performance in the crucial fixture. 

He still top-scored for the Pacers (20), along with Benedict Mathurin, and provided the most assists (11), but those numbers were way below his tournament average. 

Haliburton is just 23 years old though, and his impressive performances will be very encouraging for both Pacers fans and coach Rick Carlisle alike, who will be hoping this is just the start of a promising future for the franchise, led by their up-and-coming star Point Guard. 

Cool cash prize for LA highlights tournament’s benefits

While some critics saw the tournament as a needless addition, players will not have felt the same way with $500,000 up for grabs for each member of the winning roster. 

The Lakers, and most other sides you would presume, would have been highly-motivated by this incentive and it led to some high-class, competitive basketball throughout the tournament. 

There is also an All-Tournament Team set to be announced on Monday, which could provide extra ammunition for players in the hunt for individual awards, all-star places and other accolades down the line. 

While the courts have come under heavy criticism, especially in the final when both sides were restricted in which uniforms they could wear due to the colour scheme of the Vegas venue, there is definitely a future for this tournament. 

The high prize money and added spotlight on usually under-the-radar regular season matches only enhanced the competitiveness of the fixtures and the inaugural In-Season Tournament should be considered a resounding success. 

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