LAS VEGAS (AFP) – The Los Angeles Lakers, fueled by 30 points from ageless LeBron James, routed New Orleans 133-89 on Thursday, Dec. 7, to book a title showdown with upstarts Indiana in the inaugural NBA in-season tournament.
James, who will celebrate his 39th birthday on December 30, was ruthlessly efficient, connecting on nine of his 12 attempts from the floor, including four-of-four from three-point range. He piled up his 30 points, with five rebounds and eight assists, in less than 23 minutes on the floor.
He sat out the entire fourth quarter as both teams pulled their starters. The Lakers had taken full control, out-scoring the shell-shocked Pelicans 43-17 in the third period.
The first semifinal of the new tournament was an altogether different affair, with Tyrese Haliburton scoring 27 points to propel the Pacers to a 128-119 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks in a game that featured 16 lead changes — seven of them in the fourth quarter.
Haliburton added 15 assists, without a turnover, and Myles Turner scored 26 points and pulled down 10 rebounds.
Indiana, sixth in the Eastern Conference regular-season standings, had knocked out the East-leading Boston Celtics in the quarterfinals and followed up with another scintillating showing against the 2021 NBA champion Bucks, who were led by 37 points and 10 rebounds from two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo.
The tournament has been a coming-out party for Haliburton and the Pacers, who came into Thursday’s game averaging more than 128 points per game but whose NBA title hopes have been largely discounted.
“I think this was the whole point of the in-season tournament, to see a young group like ourselves compete and come out here and fight,” Haliburton said. “I think we’re shocking the world right now. Nobody expected us to be here except for the guys in the locker room.”
The Bucks appeared to take control when they out-scored the Pacers 43-28 in the third quarter to take a 94-91 lead into the final period. Damian Lillard, who scored just four points in the first half, scored 20 in the second for Milwaukee.
But in a nip-and-tuck fourth, Turner’s put-back layup gave the Pacers a 115-112 lead with 2:19 to play. Haliburton added a layup and a step-back three-pointer as the Pacers pushed the lead to 122-114 with 49.5 seconds left.
Racing back up court, Haliburton pointed to his wrist where a watch would be, an imitation of Lillard’s longtime “Dame Time” celebration.
“I respected it,” Lillard said.