Lakers win NBA Cup

Lakers win NBA Cup

The Lakers wanted the In-Season Tournament championship from the start, and not merely because each of them stood to earn a cool $500,000 as a result. They aimed for the distinction of being the first titleholders of what now appears to be a fixture in the National Basketball Association moving forward. And while all the other competitors were locked in, their determination — fueled by the desire for top dog LeBron James to associate his name with success in the twilight of his career — gave them the edge, all other things being equal.

As yesterday’s do-or-die affair emphatically proved, however, all others things are most definitely not equal. The Lakers hang their hats in defense for a reason; they have Anthony Davis to anchor their coverage. And, in the In-Season Tournament (IST) final, he showed just how much his domination on the far less glamorous end of the court can impact the outcome of a set-to. True, the purple and gold were active in every position, trumpeting their length, athleticism, and focus to stifle the Pacers’ otherwise-overwhelming propensity to put points on the board. On the other hand, he was by far the most active rim protector, erasing mistakes and blown assignments with his otherworldly instincts.

The clincher, of course, was that Davis matched his defensive prowess with an offensive clinic that underscored the Lakers’ size. Every single one of the 16 field goals he had — off an astounding 67% clip, by the way — was from the paint. The Pacers had no one to stop him. Heck, he was so locked in that not even two-time blocks leader Miles Turner had a chance; the latter used up all six fouls and had zero blocks in 25 minutes of action. By the time the final buzzer sounded, he sported a ridiculous 41-20-5-4 stat line that no one player who suited up (not even eventual IST Most Valuable Player awardee James) came close to approximating.

The Pacers have ample reason to hold their heads high. They may have fallen short of their ultimate objective, but their stellar play heading into the final displayed their capacity to stand toe to toe with the league’s finest. Forget their middling record; that they toppled the vaunted Celtics, Sixers, and Bucks en route validates their status as bona fide contenders. And in the forefront stands Tyrese Haliburton, who announced his bid for superstardom with a campaign for the ages. They can only get better from here on.

For now, though, the spotlight is rightly on the Lakers. They’re slowly becoming whole; all that’s left on the injury list is projected starter Gabe Vincent. And they’re quickly becoming scary; their run to claim the IST hardware exhibits their ability to impose their will once they’re given a worthy goal to meet. Under James’ leadership, they’re compelled to come up with nothing but their best effort every time out. If they stay healthy, look out. A deep playoff run is most definitely in the cards.


Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.