Add two more lines to LeBron James’ Basketball Hall of Fame resume.
NBA Cup championship.
The Los Angeles Lakers superstar scored 24 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, delivered four assists and had two steals as the Lakers defeated Indiana 123-109 Saturday in the championship game of the NBA’s first In-Season Tournament.
Lakers forward-center Anthony Davis delivered an exceptional and necessary performance: 41 points, 20 rebounds, five assists and four blocks, and reserve guard Austin Reaves scored 28 points, including 22 points in 12 minutes, 36 seconds in the first half.
The Lakers were 7-0 in the In-Season Tournament.
The upstart Pacers, who have the league’s best offense and a star-in-the-making in Tyrese Haliburton, were impressive, winning their first six games of the IST. But they struggled offensively against the Lakers. Haliburton had 20 points and 11 assists but was 2-for-8 on 3-pointers and the Pacers shot 36.8% from the field and 24.4% on 3s.
Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of the NBA In-Season Tournament:
The idea of an in-season tournament was met with apprehension, if not skepticism, from a wide range of people inside and outside of the league. But there was also intrigue, and by the time the IST reached the final night of group play, there was sufficient interest.
And that interest showed up in increased TV ratings and record attendance in November, which is important for the league as it negotiates a new TV deal after the current one expires after 2024-25.
Top players were on the court for IST games, which in general were competitive and stars performed.
“I want to thank all of the players in the league and the coaches, of course, the teams, for embracing this new concept. I know it doesn’t come without challenges,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “There’s no doubt there’s some things that we are learning this time through. I mean, overall, we are thrilled with the interest we’ve seen so far this season. But again, probably people are tired of hearing the word 'tweak.' So we’ll come up with another synonym for that."
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James
James wanted to win this, and if you thought earning an extra $500,000 per player for winning the NBA Cup didn’t matter to him, you haven’t paid attention to his approach. James averaged 26.4 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 1.6 steals and shot 56.8% from the field and 60.6% on 3-pointers.
James’ MVP days are behind him, but he remains – just shy of his 39th birthday on Dec. 30 – one of the game’s best and most impactful players.
— NBA (@NBA) December 10, 2023
Los Angeles Lakers, Indiana Pacers
Beyond winning the NBA Cup, each Lakers player earned $500,00 for capturing the title. Los Angeles is 14-9 and in a virtual three-way tie for third place in the Western Conference.
Each Pacers player earned $250,000 for reaching the final, and this run was an important step in the development of the Pacers, who have the potential to be a significant factor in the Eastern Conference this season and beyond.
The major question for both teams: How can they use this experience to maximize success moving forward?
Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton
Haliburton began emerging as a franchise-caliber player last season and has solidified that status this season, especially during the IST when he averaged 26-plus points and 10-plus assists and shot better than 50% from the field and better than 44% on 3-pointers, leading the Pacers to the final.
Los Angeles Lakers forward-center Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis started the game 6-for-6 and had 13 points and eight rebounds in the first quarter. The Pacers, who struggle defensively, had no answer for Davis, who averaged 23.2 points (52.5% shooting from the field), 14.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 2.9 blocks in the IST.
Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo-Damian Lillard combo
The Bucks are still trying to figure out the game as a team (see below), but stars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard provide the dynamic expected when the Bucks made the trade for Lillard. The Bucks scored 127 points per 100 possessions when they were on the court in the IST. Antetokounmpo averaged 29 points and 5.8 assists and shot 64.6% from the field and 71.4% on limited 3-point attempts, and Lillard averaged 28.7 points, 7.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds and shot 50% from the field and 51.1% on 3s.
Stars came to play
Of the players who played in at least four IST games, these averaged at least 25 points and shot at least 50% from the field: Antetokounmpo, Lillard, Haliburton, James, Phoenix’s Kevin Durant, Dallas’ Luka Doncic, Denver’s Nikola Jokic, New York’s Jalen Brunson, Boston's Jaylen Brown, Utah’s Jordan Clarkson.
Las Vegas is a popular NBA destination – namely for the Summer League, which draws more than 100,000 fans. The NBA capped its IST with the semifinals and final in Vegas, and as expansion is a real possibility after a new TV deal is in place, the Nevada city will be at the top of the list for expansion, along with Seattle, if and when the NBA decides to go in that direction.
T-Mobile Arena, where the IST semis and final were played, is an NBA-ready facility, and an expansion fee will net the league billions of dollars.
LeBron James has expressed an interest in being part of an ownership group for a Vegas franchise, and double-downed on that desire after the game.
“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 coming in soon, NFL team, hockey team, F1 was just here over the Thanksgiving week. Everything is here. This is a place that loves great attractions and I think the NBA will be another great addition to this city.”
When Silver presented James with the MVP award, the commissioner joked with the star, "Sorry, this doesn't come with a franchise."
The first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament MVP:
LeBron James 🏆 pic.twitter.com/lVxJfgdHhx
— NBA (@NBA) December 10, 2023
The Bucks lost in the IST semifinals, and the report from Chris Haynes detailing Bobby Portis' postgame challenge to first-year coach Adrian Griffin and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s comment that the Bucks are sometimes “not organized at all” signify not all is right with the 15-7 squad.
0-4 In-Season Tournament teams
Detroit Pistons: The Pistons were 0-4 in group play – all losses part of a 19-game losing streak that could reach 20 games when they play the Pacers Monday.
San Antonio Spurs: The Spurs have lost 16 consecutive games – and are thankful for the Pistons.
Memphis Grizzlies: It has been a problematic season for the Grizzlies, who are 6-15 overall and still two weeks from Ja Morant’s return from a 25-game suspension.
Chicago Bulls: The Bulls attempted a quick turnaround, but it’s not working – time for the Bulls to see what they can get in trades for their key players.
Washington Wizards: The Wizards allowed at least 120 points in each group play game.
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum
The Celtics star shot just 43.3% from the field and 22% on 3-pointers in Boston’s five IST games, including 1-for-11 against Toronto, 0-for-3 against Orlando and 2-for-8 against Indiana.
Southeast and Northwest divisions
None of the 10 teams from the Southeast Division in the Eastern Conference and Northwest Division from the Western Conference made it out of group play, including Orlando, Miami, Minnesota, Oklahoma City and Denver – all teams with winning records (and the Timberwolves with a league-best 17 victories).
Los Angeles Clippers’ James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard
The Clippers were 1-3 in the IST, Paul George shot 32.5% on 3s, Russell Westbrook shot 30% from the field, and of George, Westbrook, James Harden and Kawhi Leonard, only Harden had a positive plus-minus in those games. Now, overall, they have won three consecutive games, are 11-10 and have room to improve.
Lakers vs Pacers highlights
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NBA tournament winners and losers: LeBron James and Lakers win NBA Cup