LOS ANGELES — LeBron James scored 15 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter, and the Los Angeles Lakers secured the last semifinal 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 points for the top-seeded Lakers, who will face the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday in Las Vegas. The Milwaukee Bucks will take on the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference semifinal, also on Thursday.
The championship game will be staged on Saturday, with the winner taking home the NBA Cup.
James put on a masterful shooting performance down the stretch while also racking up 11 assists, 8 rebounds and 5 steals. The 21-year veteran scored 15 of the Lakers’ first 19 points in the final period and assisted on his teammates’ other two baskets while Los Angeles pulled ahead.
Kevin Durant scored 31 points for the Suns, but he badly missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer. Phoenix had won eight of 10 before losing to Los Angeles for the third time this season.
Devin Booker cut the Lakers’ lead to 102-101 on a layup with 29 seconds to play, but Reaves drilled his third 3-pointer with 15 seconds left. Durant made another layup moments later, and Davis missed one of two free throws to open the door for Durant’s potential tying shot.
Booker and Grayson Allen scored 21 points apiece for Phoenix.
The Lakers earned the top seed in the Western Conference by going unbeaten in the group stage of the tourney, including a win at Phoenix on Nov. 10. 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, Lakers coach Darvin Ham and Phoenix’s Frank Vogel 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 due to 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 had 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.