LA Lakers join rampant Bucks in NBA Cup last four after controversial timeout | NBA Cup
LeBron James scored 15 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter, and the Los Angeles Lakers secured the last semi-final spot in the inaugural NBA in-season tournament with a 106-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.
Anthony Davis had 27 points and 15 rebounds and Austin Reaves scored 20 for the top-seeded Lakers, who will face New Orleans on Thursday in Las Vegas. Milwaukee play Indiana in the East semi-final.
“You’ve got some of the most alpha male competitors in the world, and if you give us an opportunity to play for something meaningful or an incentive, then you get what you’re getting,” said James, who also racked up 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals. “The in-season tournament is what it is, and we have an opportunity to play on a big stage, be on national television, represent our families, our communities, where we come from.”
James put on a masterful shooting performance down the stretch, scoring 15 of the Lakers’ first 19 points in the final period and getting the assists on his teammates’ other two baskets as Los Angeles pulled ahead.
Kevin Durant scored 31 points, but he badly missed a long three-point attempt at the buzzer for the Suns. Phoenix had won eight of 10 before losing to Los Angeles for the third time already this season.
Devin Booker cut the Lakers’ lead to 102-101 on a layup with 29 seconds to play, but Reaves drilled his third three-pointer with 15 seconds left.
After Durant made another lay-up moments later, the Suns were left furious when officials granted James’ request for a timeout while the ball appeared to be loose because Booker had knocked it away from Reaves an instant earlier.
“It’s a loose ball, and you can’t call a timeout on a loose ball,” Phoenix coach Frank Vogel said. “The whistle blows. I don’t know why. Everything in the league is reviewable. I don’t know why that can’t be reviewable. … We got the trap, we got the turnover, (and the) damn whistle blows. It’s just frustrating.”
Reaves said he thought Booker probably fouled him an instant before the timeout was granted.
“There was no call, and LeBron made a high-IQ play he’s made a million times,” Reaves said.
Durant didn’t share his coach’s anger about the call, saying he didn’t initially believe the ball was loose when the timeout was granted.
“That’s not the ballgame,” Durant said. “That’s one play. It’s a 48-minute game. I don’t like to complain about calls. Sometimes the ref ain’t going to get it right all the time. Sometimes it’s on us to play through all that stuff and not worry about putting the game in the ref’s hands.”
Davis was eventually fouled, but he missed one of two free throws to open the door for Durant’s potential tying 30-footer.
Booker and Grayson Allen scored 21 points apiece for Phoenix.
The Lakers earned the top seed in the West by going unbeaten in the group stage of the inaugural tournament, including a win on 10 November in Phoenix. The Suns rebounded from that setback to earn a wild-card spot in the knockout round.
While fans are still debating the merits of the in-season tournament, both Vogel and Lakers coach Darvin Ham said their players are getting into the spirit of the event, particularly with the motivation to earn financial bonuses for their teams’ support personnel and younger players.
“They’re well aware of that bag,” Ham said with a grin. “Money speaks, man.”
Bradley Beal missed his 11th straight game with a persistent back injury for the Suns, who hung in despite committing 22 turnovers while their two healthy superstars struggled with foul trouble. Booker picked up his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter, while Durant entered the final period with four fouls and committed his fifth with 3:18 to play.
Phoenix committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter alone, the most by any team in the league this season. The Suns trailed by 15 in the first half, but scored 14 consecutive points out of halftime to take a lead.
“We didn’t do enough early in the game,” Vogel said. “The turnovers and on the glass, if we do a better job, we’re not talking about a close game like that.”
New York Knicks 122-146 Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 35 points and 10 assists, Damian Lillard added 28 points, and the Bucks beat the Knicks 146-122 on Tuesday night to reach the semi-finals.
The Bucks posted a season high in scoring, shooting 60.5% (23 of 38) from three-point range and 60.4% overall to set up a matchup with Indiana.
“Tonight was a huge step. We wanted to get to Vegas but when we get to Vegas we’ve got to take care of business. We’ve got two games to win there,” coach Adrian Griffin said. “I thought tonight our team was the better team. Our bench was terrific and I thought the crowd was terrific. It had all the makings of a playoff game.”
Griffin anticipates a strong challenge from the Pacers.
“We expect their best, but when we are at our best, I love our chances,” he said.
Lillard said the Bucks are headed to Las Vegas with the intent of bringing home a championship and setting a tone for the rest of the season.
“You come out of this thing on top, I think it’s a pretty strong statement and something that everybody around the league has to respect,” he said.
Milwaukee are 5-0 in tournament play and extended its home winning streak to nine games. The Bucks (15-6) have won 10 of 12 overall.
Julius Randle scored a season-high 41 points for the Knicks, whose three-game winning streak was snapped. Jalen Brunson added 24 points and RJ Barrett scored 23 for New York, which earned a wildcard berth in the knockout round through a point-differential tiebreaker.
“Defensively, we didn’t really do anything all game. That’s the story. That’s it,” Brunson said. “They hit a lot of shots. They got comfortable. It’s on us to make them uncomfortable.”
Antetokounmpo had an injury scare less than two minutes into the game. After tipping in a missed shot, he landed on Randle’s foot and rolled his left ankle. Antetokounmpo fell to the floor in pain. He eventually limped up the court but stayed in the game and tallied 10 of the Bucks’ first 13 points.
After a tightly contested first half, the Bucks pulled ahead by as many as 18 points in the third quarter. Milwaukee led by as many as 27 in the fourth and Griffin emptied his bench, giving rare playing time to Antetokounmpo’s brother, Thanasis, and Robin Lopez, the twin brother of starting center Brook Lopez.
Lillard swished three step-back three-pointers in the waning stages of the second quarter to give the Bucks at 75-72 lead at halftime. It was the highest-scoring first half this season for Milwaukee.
Lillard thought the Bucks could have scored even more.
“We missed free throws. We missed some shots in the paint. It could have easily been a 165-point game,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that we can turn into a team that does that every night, but I do think that we have that type of explosiveness.”
The Knicks had gone 10-3 since losing to the Bucks in Milwaukee on 3 November in the opener of tournament group play.