LOS ANGELES – The Lakers advanced to the NBA In-Season Tournament semifinal in Las Vegas with a 106-103 victory against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday at Crypto.com Arena.
With less than 10 seconds left in the game, the Suns had an opportunity to tie or win the game and Austin Reaves seemed to lose possession of the ball. At that moment, LeBron James called a timeout and the referees granted it. The controversy was centered around Reaves seemingly not having possession of the ball when the timeout was called.
“During live play the official felt that LA still had possession of the ball when LeBron James requested the timeout,” the crew chief, Josh Tiven defended the call to Jovan Buha of The Athletic following the contest.
Rewinding the clock, the Lakers played the best first half of basketball all season. The Lakers had a 10-point lead after the first quarter. This season, the Lakers have struggled to maintain a lead through the first quarter so this sparked a strong start.
The Lakers also had 10 forced turnovers in the first quarter, the most of any team this season.
One of the main contributing factors to the Lakers’ defensive dominance against the Suns was Jarred Vanderbilt. He returned to the Lakers’ lineup on Sunday after a 20-game absence. Vanderbilt led the team in offensive rebounds through the first quarter with four.
“That’s one of his superpowers,” Darvin Ham said of Vanderbilt. “At the end of the day, I truly believe it’s personnel based. Some guys just have that knack, that nose for the ball.”
As the old adage goes, defense wins championships. This may not have been a championship game, but the in-season tournament has certainly turned up the intensity of regular season games.
D’Angelo Russell said how much the in-season tournament has felt like a playoff environment after the game.
“Everybody is coming out ready to play,” said Russell. “A lot of guys are diving on the floor. Heck yeah, playoff intensity right there.”
Unlike the playoffs, the in-season tournament format featured a single-elimination game from the quarterfinals through to the championship game which will be played on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Vegas. While the winning team will not be able to raise a banner, there is more on the line than just a regular season game. Each player will get $100,000 for reaching the semifinals, $200,000 for second place in the tournament and the winners receive a $500,000 monetary incentive.
Austin Reaves played like he had the incentives motivating him by his second half performance. In the third quarter, Reaves scored over half of the Lakers points, 13 out of the 24. He is no stranger to big moments as he proved during last year’s playoff run and has earned the trust of his team’s leaders in LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
“He’s done it,” Davis shrugged matter-of-factly. “He’s made countless big shots for us, big plays for us. We just have a lot of confidence in him and what he’s able to bring to our team. We feel like we can go to him any time and he’ll make the right play.”
That is exactly what happened in the fourth quarter when Reaves was called upon to make yet another big shot. James pointed to swing the ball to Reaves late in the fourth quarter with 15 seconds left in the game. Swoosh. Reaves drained a three-pointer to seal the game for the Lakers.
Anthony Davis had a team high of nine offensive rebounds and totaled 15 rebounds on the night to go along with 27 points. The team tallied a season-high 21 offensive rebounds. Remarkably, this equaled the total number of offensive rebounds the Lakers had the entire season.
“AD is our anchor when it comes to defense,” LeBron James emphasized. “I don’t think we have another one in our league that can do it. That can guard 1-5…He’s been doing it for so long and I think he gets taken for granted by our league when it comes to things like defensive player of the year [awards]. It’s more than just blocking shots.”
James and Davis combined for 58 points. James had a noteworthy play in the first quarter that brought fans to their feet, which was a no-look pass to Taurean Prince. It was his fourth quarter performance however that willed the Lakers to the team win. With the Suns third quarter comeback run, the Lakers were playing in a close game. James scored seven straight points in the fourth quarter.
The Lakers will travel to Las Vegas to prepare for Thursday’s IST semi-final against the New Orleans Pelicans at T-Mobile Arena in another single-elimination game. Whichever team advances from that game will face the winner of the eastern conference in the championship on Sunday and be crowned the IST champion.