'It sucks and it hurts:' Pacers grounded and outplayed by Lakers in tournament final
The Lakers stuck to the game plan and played to their strengths. On the Pacers' 123-109 loss, how they were torched inside the paint and by the Lakers' size.
LAS VEGAS — The Pacers’ push for a championship ended with LeBron James standing in the way once again. That was the story last decade, when their season ended to James' team five times over a seven-year stretch.
“It’s tough,” former Pacers president Larry Bird said in 2017. “LeBron James is, no doubt, one of the greatest.”
This time it was in a non-traditional format as the NBA debuted an In-Season Tournament and the final four had games that most resembled the NCAA Tournament: single-game elimination at a neutral site, T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
James wasn’t the star of the night, but he asserted himself throughout as the Los Angeles Lakers owned the paint and rebounding battle en route to a 123-109 win over the Pacers to capture the first-ever tournament title.
And James was named tournament MVP.
“Our guys got a real taste of what the elevated stage is all about,” head coach Rick Carlisle said afterward. “It's so important to have this experience, to feel the intensity, to feel the glare and the glow, and to find out what it means to be totally together in an effort to conquer it.
“We conquered a lot of challenges along the way. This one tonight was a little too steep. Fouls were a problem again. But I'm disappointed with the result but not the effort. The effort was great throughout.”
In a championship game that featured two teams that couldn’t have been more different, the Lakers’ size and length won out. And it started inside with Anthony Davis, who scored 13 points in the first quarter while playing every minute.
He had a massive performance, finishing with 41 points, 20 rebounds, five assists, four blocks — and Myles Turner (10 points, 7 rebounds) fouled out with 4:09 to play.
It felt as if the Lakers had a double-digit lead for most of the game, that’s how in control they were. And yet the Pacers kept hanging out despite shooting 37% from the field. LA’s game plan was simple and obvious: apply pressure and make everything difficult for Tyrese Haliburton, lock in defensively and then dominate the paint.
Check. Check. And check.
After Haliburton congratulated some of the Lakers on the win, he left the floor with a towel over his head to hide his emotions. Everything he’s done has been so public over the last week, the countless interviews and repeating of the same story. He’s good with all that, but this was a private moment.
And when he arrived to the postgame press conference, his eyes revealed just how much this game mattered and how it hurt.