LAS VEGAS (AP) — As Commissioner Adam Silver prepared to hand LeBron James the MVP trophy of the inaugural NBA 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 tournament championship after scoring 24 points and adding 11 rebounds Saturday night to help the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Indiana Pacers 123-109 in the 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 (Athletics) coming in soon, NFL team, hockey team, F1 (Formula One) 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 also 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.”
Los Angeles is the first In-Season Tournament champion 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.
“(Reddish) didn’t score a lot (nine points), but 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.
Also for the Pacers, Bennedict Mathurin scored 20 points and Aaron Nesmith had 15.
In addition to taking home a trophy, Lakers players on standard contracts 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 Sunday 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.”
Among those in attendance were basketball Hall of Famers Julius Erving and Shaquille O’Neal, football Hall of Famers Tim Brown and Shannon Sharpe, former tennis star Steffi Graf, former boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr., chef Bobby Flay and rapper Flavor Flav. Members of the two-time champion Las Vegas Aces, including WNBA Finals MVP A’ja Wilson, also watched.
Pacers: At Detroit on Monday night to open a four-game road swing.
Lakers: At Dallas on Tuesday night to begin a three-game Texas trip.
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