FOX Sports NBA Analyst
Styles make fights. But cute doesn’t win Cups.
The strategy employed by the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers competing for the first-ever NBA Cup could not have been more disparate. The Pacers, the league’s highest-flying offense, hoped to race past and shoot over the Lakers, using their young legs and vastly superior 3-point shooting percentage to their advantage. The Lakers, meanwhile, went to the other extreme to capitalize on their size and strength, pounding the ball into the paint and relentlessly attacking the boards at both ends.
Score one for Old School. Lakers 123, Pacers 109. No one was more dominant in the paint than Anthony Davis. His 41 points, 20 rebounds and four blocked shots don’t do his performance justice. All of LeBron James’ 24 points came from the paint or the free-throw line and all but two of Austin Reaves’ 28 points did as well.
The Pacers, ranked sixth in 3-point shooting percentage while the Lakers came in 26th, created enough long-range open looks; they simply couldn’t make them, going 10-for-41. The subsequent long rebounds led to run-outs the other way and the Lakers opted to take everything to the rim. Wise choice. Taurean Prince finally buried their first 3-pointer from the left corner with just over a minute left in the third quarter, ending a team-wide 0-for-10 night. They finished 2-for-13 from deep, season-lows for makes and attempts.
The Lakers didn’t just ignore the 3-point line; they pretty much passed on any shot that wasn’t in the shadow of the backboard. Their 47 made field goals included only four outside the paint. A Reaves jumper from just above the left elbow was their only basket from outside the lane in the entire first half.
Here are more observations from the Lakers’ win.
[Anthony Davis leads Lakers to first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament title, 123-109 over Pacers]
Welcome to stardom, Ty
The key to choking off the No. 1-ranked team in points, pace, overall field-goal percentage and effective field-goal percentage? Putting a stranglehold on point guard Tyrese Haliburton. His final stat line looked decent — 20 points, 11 assists — but he was far from the defense-wrecking whirling dervish that took apart the Milwaukee Bucks and Boston Celtics to reach the final and made him the newly anointed NBA darling coming into the championship.
The Lakers essentially dared another Pacer to beat them and no one stepped up. They picked up Haliburton all 94 feet then muddied the floor with a soft trap as soon as he crossed midcourt. They didn’t close on him hard enough that he could split the double team, just enough to get the ball out of his hands. Think of NFL defenses when they face a super-quick quarterback, a la Lamar Jackson, and opt to contain or bracket them rather than sack them — that’s what the Lakers did to Haliburton.
Still mad, Lakers fans?
Remember the non-stop rumors/suggestions/frustration that GM Rob Pelinka was refusing to relinquish any first-round picks to acquire the Pacers’ Buddy Hield and Myles Turner to bolster the Lakers’ long-range shooting and frontline depth? How Lakers Nation was downright irate, believing Hield and Turner were the pieces to make the purple-and-gold title contenders once again? I do.
And I’m guessing whatever happens going forward, we won’t need to hear that jabberwocky after their Cup performances. At least not from Laker Nation.
There’s no gentle way to put this: Turner got absolutely manhandled at both ends, offering no paint presence either direction. Again, his stat line — 10 points, seven rebounds — doesn’t tell the real story. He missed three of four shots at the rim and did not have a single blocked shot or drawn charge. In fact, at one point, he had a chance to draw a charge on LeBron and decided to steer clear, leaving him a wide-open lane to the rim. At another point, he had a chance to post up Reaves and couldn’t even establish position. The discovery that he likes to play with Legos — excuse me, “build with Legos,” according to Turner — hit a lot different after Saturday night.
Hield wasn’t much better. He finished with eight points on 3-of-11 shooting, including 2-for-9 from long range. Making matters worse, he became increasingly reluctant to shoot or attack off the dribble, further gumming up the Pacers offense.
Flopping is back, baby
The league could pull back a significant amount of the prize money — $500,000 for the winners, $200,000 for the Pacers — if it reviews the game tape and assesses the new $2,000 flopping fine. It started less than 2 1/2 minutes into the game when D’Angelo Russell feigned being held in the backcourt by Pacers guard Bruce Brown and drew a whistle and the head-snapping and limb-flailing went unabated for most of the night.
But kudos to crew chief David Guthrie. After calling a backcourt foul on Cam Reddish when Aaron Nesmith inbounded the ball intending it for Haliburton, realized Haliburton couldn’t get to it and then lost his balance trying to shield the ball from Reddish, Guthrie explained to Reddish what he thought he saw and appeared to say, “I could be wrong.” First-rate officials aren’t afraid to make such admissions; it’s the ones that are belligerent or arrogant about borderline calls that escalate player frustration.
Then again, the officials’ jobs would be infinitely easier — and flopping less rampant — if the league had stuck with its promise to stop micro-managing the game’s physicality, particularly around the rim.
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.
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