The NBA's first ever In-Season Tournament concluded on Saturday night with a battle of IST unbeatens, and in the end, it was the Los Angeles Lakers who took home the NBA Cup with a 123-109 victory over the upstart Indiana Pacers. The Lakers were carried by their big three (LeBron James, Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves), who combined for 93 points in the game, and a brilliant defensive effort, holding the high-octane Indiana Pacers to under 110 points for the first time since November 1st.
After the game, Lakers head coach Darvin Ham stopped by the NBA TV set and spent some time Nabil Karim and Steve Smith discussing the Lakers In-Season Tournament win, and he made a cross-sport comparison that rightfully caught the eye of hoops fans.
“If Bron is our Tom Brady on offense, Anthony Davis is our Ray Lewis. He anchors our defense, he plays middle linebacker, he communicates, he does all of that.”
Lakers HC Darvin Ham on AD’s defense 🗣️ pic.twitter.com/6ltLgUnyE1
— NBA TV (@NBATV) December 10, 2023
The comparison makes sense, and there may not have been a better time for Darvin Ham to make it than after this particular game. Not only did Anthony Davis dominate offensively, scoring a season-best 41 points on 16-24 shooting, he was absolutely transcendent defensively, controlling the glass (20 rebounds), blocking four shots, and effecting at least half a dozen more. Davis was the exact sort of impactful presence the Lakers will need him to be if they hope to win their second NBA Title in the LeBron James-Anthony Davis era.
As for the 38-year-old LeBron James, it may have been a ho-hum final stat line (24-11-4), but James controlled all aspects of the game offensively, and even played with a little extra juice on the defensive end of the floor. Bron set the tone early, jumping the passing lanes twice to force two Tyrese Haliburton turnovers, which may not seem like a noteworthy anecdote unless you were aware that Haliburton hadn't committed a turnover in the previous two IST games versus Boston and Milwaukee. On the offensive end, LeBron was the queen on the chess board, making all the right passes, playing bully ball in the post when necessary, and orchestrating a Lakers offense that shot 53 percent from the field and scored 123 points despite making only two 3-pointers all game.
Does this win signify that the Lakers are the team to beat come June? Well, that remains to be seen, but if LA can get this sort of effort from their big three consistently throughout the playoffs, it's hard to fathom many teams being having a ceiling quite as high.