CNN — NBA superstar LeBron James posted 30 points, eight assists and five rebounds as the Los Angeles Lakers dominated the New Orleans Pelicans 133-89 in the semifinals of the In-Season Tournament (IST) on Thursday.
The Lakers’ victory means that they advance to the championship game in the inaugural edition of the tournament, where they will take on the Indiana Pacers for a chance to win the NBA Cup.
The semifinal games took place in T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas – as will the final – with specially designed courts and an atmosphere akin to that of a postseason matchup.
While the Pelicans seemed to channel that competitive energy in the first quarter, taking a narrow one-point lead into the second, their offense stagnated for the rest of the game as they were completely outplayed by the Purple and Gold.
The Lakers entered the halftime break up 13, before a lopsided third quarter, in which they outscored New Orleans 43-17, put the game beyond any doubt early on.
“I think we are starting to get a feel for what we need to become as a team for us to win basketball games, to be consistent,” James said after the game, per the NBA.
“Defensively, we’re really, really starting to tap into that like, ‘OK, we’ve got to defend every single night.’ When we defend, we give ourselves a chance to win every night.”
Lakers coach Darvin Ham said afterward that he enjoys the different feel that the competition brings.
“I think the intensity that this tournament brings reveals that because it’s not just a regular-season game.” he said. “It doesn’t feel like that. The stakes are way higher and you see people in those delicate moments what they are truly made of, at least the beginning stages.”
LA’s free-scoring offense saw six players score in double figures. Lakers big man Anthony Davis contributed 16 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, two steals and two blocks, while Austin Reaves put up 17 points, five rebounds and seven assists off the bench.
James, who turns 39 later this month, was on fire from deep, making all four of his three-point attempts on the night. He knocked down three straight in the second quarter to kick-start the Lakers’ run, including a heat-check shot that he took from the center-court logo.
Conversely, Trey Murphy III led his side in scoring with 14 points as the entire Pelicans team shot a paltry 35.8% from the field – and 22.6% from deep – in a performance that coach Willie Green described as a “total letdown” and “a step in the wrong direction.”
Setting the Pace
The surprise package of the IST continues to turn heads.
Powered by the phenomenal play of emerging star Tyrese Haliburton, the Indiana Pacers defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 128-119 on Thursday to set up a championship meeting with the Lakers.
Haliburton had 27 points, seven rebounds and 15 assists with zero turnovers while center Myles Turner added 26 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.
Milwaukee came back from a double-digit deficit to take the lead in the third quarter and battled the Pacers right to the end but saw the game slip away when Haliburton hit a step-back triple to seal the win with under a minute left.
Indiana will take on LA in the title game on Saturday. Unlike the rest of the IST games, the final will not count towards either team’s regular season record.