LAS VEGAS — The skepticism had long disappeared, replaced with the kind of toughness, focus and intensity that’s traditionally reserved for the playoffs.
The NBA In-Season Tournament injected life into the Lakers, forcing them to accelerate their process to meet the challenge.
The prize money, $500,000 to each player on the winning team, might have been the fuel early, but by Saturday’s finals, pure competition had organically added to the stakes.
Forget gimmicks. Forget the bright courts, the point-differential tiebreakers and the prize pool. This was everything the NBA could’ve wanted.
LeBron James’ embraced the creation in his 21st season, controlling games like he did in the first 15 years of his career. And Anthony Davis, a player criticized for a lack of toughness and fire, passionately dominated.
He screamed to the roof and flexed as he stomped toward fans in the first row of the T-Mobile Center in Las Vegas. The party would soon start.
The Lakers were champs — champs with fatter pockets.
Davis scored 41 and grabbed 20 rebounds, the best player on the floor as the Lakers beat Indiana, 123-109, to win the inaugural NBA Cup, clinching the $500,000 prize for each player.
James, the tournament MVP, added 24 and Austin Reaves scored 28 in a game where the Lakers’ defense smothered the league’s top offense while feasting on one of the softest interior defenses.
The Lakers scored 86 points in the paint — making only four shots outside of the lane.
©2023 Los Angeles Times. Visit at latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.