Tickets to Las Vegas ready. After the eliminations of the Denver Nuggets and the Boston Celtics, the Milwaukee Bucks have not been surprised. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s team has beaten the New York Knicks (146-122) with authority in the quarterfinal game of the NBA Cup. After their victory, they will face the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference as a favorite in the semifinals in the city of casinos. In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers have defeated the Phoenix Suns (106-103) and will face each other on Thursday at the New Orleans Pelicans in the second semifinal. Both Pacers and Pelicans are two of ten teams in the League that still do not know what it feels like to win a championship in professional basketball.
With their Antetokounmpo-Lillard duo, the Bucks will seek to inaugurate the record of the new tournament. This Tuesday, playing at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, they gave no options to some feisty Knicks, who held their own until halftime, which was reached with a local advantage of 75-72. The game until then was dominated by attacking play, with great accuracy from the 3-point line for the home team.
In the third quarter, the Bucks maintained the scoring pace, but they gritted their teeth on defense and the Knicks were more flawed. Antetokounmpo’s men escaped. After a 37-24 run, the Milwaukee team entered the final stretch of the game with a lead of 16 points (112-96), insurmountable for the visitors, despite the fact that they started the last quarter with a favorable 7-0 that was only a mirage. Immediately, the locals regained control and extended their advantage.
On the part of the Bucks, the top scorers were Antetokounmpo (35 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds) and Damian Lillard, this year’s new signing who has arrived at the team hungry for titles, who added 28 points, 7 assists and 3 rebounds. For the Knicks, the one who battled tirelessly was Julius Randle, the game’s top scorer with 41 points in an impressive series of 14 of 19 field goals.
In the West, the Lakers asserted their home status against the Suns of Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. The Angelenos had an impressive first half at Crypto.com Stadium. Especially Anthony Davis, who closed the first half of the game with 20 points (and the night with 27) and six rebounds. LeBron James had 14 points and seven assists in the first two quarters, which the Lakers closed with a 12-point lead over their rivals. James, who will turn 39 on December 30, had 31 points in 40 minutes of play. Nobody played more than him this Tuesday.
Durant and Booker, Phoenix’s pillars, had a weak start, contributing only 17 points between them in the first half. The Suns reacted after the break. The team imposed its rhythm on the attack in the third quarter, with a great performance by guard Grayson Allen, who scored 21 points, including four triples. Booker came from strength to strength to contribute another 21. Durant, who has two rings on a team that has not yet won an NBA title, closed stronger (31 points). However, he missed the final basket that would have tied the score. The controversy of the night came from the referees, who gave the Lakers a timeout, requested by LeBron, without them having possession of the ball. It happened in the fourth quarter with just seconds left. Phoenix was down by just one basket. Had he had possession, the night could have been different.
The response from Arizona, who had 20 turnovers on the night, was insufficient for the chemistry shown by the Lakers. The team led by Darvin Ham has won three of its last games. Los Angeles generally reaches the pace shown this Tuesday in the last weeks of the League, but the franchise has shown in this first Cup that they are always ready to put the accelerator on to win a title. That hunger was shown by guard Austin Reaves (20 points and six rebounds), who scored the triple that prevented Phoenix from extending the game. To get to the final, the Lakers will have to leave the New Orleans Pelicans, surprising semi-finalists, on the road.
LeBron James takes care of the ball against guard Grayson Allen, who despite the loss had a great night (21 points). Gary A. Vasquez (USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con)
The Milwaukee Bucks of Antetokounmpo and Lillard are favorites for the final phase of the tournament, which will be played in Las Vegas. On Thursday the two semi-finals will be played, one from the East and the other from the West, and on Saturday the grand final will take place. All of these matches will be held in La Esfera, the spectacular new space in the city of casinos, which has opted heavily for sport to revitalize itself.
The NBA has bet heavily on this new competition format, similar to the traditional European cup tournaments of different sports. The regular season is long, 82 games per team, and the idea had spread among fans that connecting to the competition before the Christmas holidays was a bit of a waste of time, because nothing had been decided.
The new tournament, with strong promotion, new designs of the parquet floors of the pavilions and the excitement of the single-match qualifiers, seems to have boosted television audiences in this first part of the season, although the acid test comes with the matches. This week.
In addition to the title, the players on the champion team will receive a prize of $500,000 each. The runners-up will receive $200,000 each, while those from the two losing semifinalist teams will receive $100,000 and the players from those eliminated in the quarterfinals will receive $50,000. With all the trappings of American professional sports, the best player of the tournament and the ideal quintet will also be chosen.
The league continues
With the exception of the final, all matches in the new tournament also count towards the regular phase of the league, which has been progressing and has already covered the first quarter of the regular season. After that first twenty games for each team, the Minnesota Timberwolves (15 wins and 4 losses) and the Oklahoma City Thunder (13-6) lead the Western Conference standings ahead of the current NBA champions, the Denver Nuggets (14-7).
The last are Victor Wembanyama’s San Antonio Spurs, who have only won 3 of the 19 games played and are close to completing the worst streak of their coach, Gregg Popovich. Wemby has not even had the consolation of being named best rookie of the month in the Western Conference, a position that has been taken from him by Oklahoma’s Chet Holmgrem, with similar statistics on a personal level, but many more team wins.
In the Eastern Conference, despite their elimination game from the NBA Cup, the Boston Celtics still have the best record (15 wins and 5 losses), followed by the Milwaukee Bucks (15-6). The real surprise, however, is the Orlando Magic (14-6), a very young team guided by the energy and talent of Franz Wagner and Paolo Banchero, last season’s best rookie.
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