LeBron James led the Los Angeles Lakers’ “alpha males” into the semi-finals of the NBA in-season tournament with a controversial 106-103 win over the Phoenix Suns.
James poured in 31 points, as well as notching 11 assists, eight rebounds and five steals in a wonderful display, to send the Lakers to Las Vegas where they will meet the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night.
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The new in-season format has caused plenty of debate but James believes it brings out the best in big-name players.
He said: “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.
“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 was also at the centre of the game’s pivotal moment when he was granted a time-out with seconds remaining despite the ball appearing to be loose after Devin Booker knocked it away from Austin Reaves.
“It’s a loose ball, and you can’t call a time-out on a loose ball,” fumed Phoenix coach Frank Vogel.
“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.”
Suns star Kevin Durant, who scored 31 points, offered a more gracious response, stating: “That’s not the ball game. 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.”