Lakers, Pacers book NBA Cup title showdown

SUPERSTAR. Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James.
SUPERSTAR. Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James. AP

LEBRON James scored 30 points in less than three quarters and the Los Angeles Lakers steamrolled the New Orleans Pelicans 133-89 on Thursday night (Friday morning, Dec. 8, 2023 PH time) to reach the championship game in the NBA In-Season Tournament.

“I think we are starting to get a feel for what we need to become a team for us to win basketball games, to be consistent,” James said. “Defensively, we’re really, really starting to tap into that like, OK, we’ve got to defend every single night. When we defend, we give ourselves a chance to win every night.”

Austin Reaves scored 17 points for Los Angeles, Anthony Davis had 16 points and 15 rebounds and Taurean Prince finished with 15 points.

Trey Murphy III led the Pelicans with 14 points. Zion Williamson had 13 points and Herbert Jones 10.

Pelicans coach Willie Green said he credited his team in the locker room with making the semifinals, “but tonight was a total letdown. We’re all disappointed in our competitive spirit against the Lakers. You’ve got to give them credit. They came out and dominated. ... But tonight we took a step in the wrong direction.”

New Orleans led 30-29 after the first quarter, but James opened the second scoring the Lakers’ first 11 points, and suddenly a one-point deficit was a 40-33 lead.

During that stretch, James made three 3-pointers in a row. The last two came from the league and tournament logo, firing up the pro-Lakers crowd. The nearly 39-year-old superstar even took three charges.

“Any time your best player sacrifices his body, takes three charges in the first half, especially with Zion coming down the paint, it sets a tone,” Reaves said. “That shows to everybody else how locked in he is to win this, and how locked in he is every game.”

Los Angeles’ run to the title game, James said, is indicative of the team’s potential. He was particularly pleased with the defense, which held New Orleans to 35.8 percent shooting, and the Lakers also had a 59-42 rebounding advantage.

Pacers 128, Bucks 119

Tyrese Haliburton hit his third 3-pointer with less than a minute left, pounded his chest, and looked down at his wrist to let everyone know one thing: “It’s our time!”

Haliburton had 27 points and 15 assists and the Indiana Pacers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 128-119 to advance to the championship game in the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament.

“We’re playing the right way and we’re shocking the world right now, we’re going to continue to do that,” Haliburton said. “And as long as we play the right way, we know we’re going to be in every basketball game.”

Myles Turner added 26 points for Indiana. Obi Toppin had 14 on 6-of-8 shooting, Isaiah Jackson chipped in 11 and Bruce Brown had 10.

Indiana is averaging a whopping 132.6 points during the tournament. Overall, they are averaging 128.3 this season — 131.7 over the last 14 games.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 37 points and 10 rebounds for Milwaukee. Damian Lillard added 24 points, Khris Middleton had 20 and Brook Lopez 18.

Most important, however, was Indiana’s reserves outscoring Milwaukee’s backups 43-13. Indiana’s bench was a combined plus-62, while Milwaukee’s reserves were minus-46.

“Yeah, our bench really was the difference in today’s game,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “If you look at the plus-minus, it’s pretty obvious that those guys played a major role.”

It was most evident in the second quarter, when Bennedict Mathurtin and T.J. McConnell came into the game with the Pacers trailing by two, and sparked a 16-7 run that gave Indiana a 43-36 lead while setting the tone for the starters as they eased back into the lineup.

“I know a lot of people don’t watch us play all the time, but we truly have one of the best benches in the NBA, if not the best bench in the NBA,” Haliburton said. “We’re a really deep team with a lot of different guys who can contribute. I’m sure we’ve got a lot of guys that people aren’t really familiar with, but they’ll be familiar all too soon, for sure.”

The Lakers will play the surprising Indiana Pacers on Saturday night (Sunday morning, Dec. 10, 2023 PH time) for the inaugural NBA Cup. Unlike the other tournament games, the championship game will not count in the regular-season standings.

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