LAS VEGAS — The Los Angeles Lakers are tied with the Boston Celtics for the most championships in NBA history. But after Saturday night, they are the only team in NBA history to win the NBA Cup.
Behind a stellar performance from Anthony Davis who had 41 points, 20 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks, the Lakers won their season opener against the Indiana Pacers 123-109 on Saturday night at T-Mobile Arena.
LeBron James was named tournament MVP after adding 24 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists.
“We’ve been doing it together for a long time, five years, and we figured it out,” Davis said after his interaction with James. “We know each other’s tendencies and what we want to do. In crunch time, we get into our infamous pick-and-roll and it’s hard to stop.
“We feed off each other. Thursday, LeBron had it going. Tonight, it was me, and he still did his thing.”
Both teams entered Saturday’s championship game at 6-0 on the season. The Lakers, behind the size and strength of James and Davis, punished opponents, outscoring them by more than 20 points per game entering the game. Indiana, meanwhile, knocked off four top seeds from last year’s Eastern Conference playoffs — the Cleveland Cavaliers, Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks — en route to the title game behind the league’s fastest pace and best offense.
Not surprisingly, Saturday’s game featured both teams leaning on those strengths. The Lakers, one of the league’s worst 3-point shooting teams, basically gave up their drive until Darian Prince hit a corner 3 in the third quarter to become just the third team this season to miss a 3. Pointer at one half. Instead, the Lakers dominated the Pacers inside, posting an 86-44 edge in points in the paint.
They used their size and length to constantly hunt Tyrese Halliburton, the tournament’s breakout star, who finished with 20 points and 11 assists.
“Yes, we are sick and tired,” Halliburton said. “We were outplayed from start to finish tonight. Didn’t get the job done on loose balls, didn’t recover, didn’t get enough stops when needed. They outplayed us and it’s frustrating.
“Not every team has Anthony Davis and 6-8, 6-9 wings, so there’s that. Understanding how different looks are going to come. It doesn’t have that regular season feel. Everything. I’m used to LeBron playing 30, 35 minutes no matter what he plays. Him and AD never It felt like it didn’t get off the ground. It was like a play-off type of deal.”
Halliburton said playing high-intensity sports motivates him.
“It was good for me to get used to it and I want to play some meaningful games,” he said. “So handle the season the right way so I can go into the playoffs and feel it.”
Indiana, meanwhile, outscored the Lakers 30-6 from the 3-point line and, surprisingly, enjoyed a 29-27 edge at the free throw line, an area where Los Angeles typically dominates its opponents. But even though the Pacers had an edge in 3-point shooting, they went 10-for-41, missing a lot of open looks that could have changed the course of the game.
The difference in the game was the huge size advantage Los Angeles had inside. The driving force behind it was Davis, who did what he wanted throughout the game. Davis got Miles Turner in foul trouble and eventually knocked him out at 4:09.
By then, Davis scored 10 straight points as part of a 13-0 run that put the Lakers up 115-99 with 3:11 remaining in Los Angeles. A huge crowd in celebration that lasted until the final buzzer.
“I try to do everything I can to win the game of basketball,” Davis said. “Obviously, my teammates put me in a great position to win. Obviously, it was a special, early-season win for us. But we want to win the same thing in June.
“It’s a step in the right direction, obviously, but even though it’s a big performance, it’s just another game and we have to continue starting on Tuesday.”
Although it was scheduled as a neutral site game, Saturday night’s crowd was in favor of the Lakers, Las Vegas is four hours northeast of Los Angeles and is typically a heavy Lakers town.
Despite winning the NBA Cup, the Lakers did not win the NBA rankings. Saturday’s game — which will ultimately be the 83rd game of the season for the Lakers and Pacers — does not count as part of the league’s regular-season standings and none of the game’s statistics count toward the regular-season total.
However, the Lakers are counting on becoming the first tournament champions of the season. The win capped off a streak the league had been hoping for over the past few weeks, cementing itself as a permanent fixture on the NBA’s calendar moving forward.
“I don’t think it’s about the MVP, it’s about us coming together to win this thing,” James told ESPN’s Malika Andrews during the trophy ceremony. “This [inaugural] Competition during the season. … records will be broken, but one that has never been broken is to make one first. We’re the season’s first champions, and no one can top that, and to do it with a historic franchise and a great cast of fun, engaging, contenders is great.”