Damian Lillard scores 35 in first half as the Milwaukee Bucks take Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers

It might be early in the first round of the NBA Playoffs, but make sure that your clocks are set to ‘Dame Time.’

Fueled by an electric first half from superstar guard Damian Lillard, the Milwaukee Bucks took down the Indiana Pacers 109-94 on Sunday in Game 1 of the first-round Eastern Conference series.

Playing without co-star and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo, Lillard scored all 35 of his points in the first two quarters, setting a record for most points in a half in Bucks playoff history.

He shot 11-for-19 from the field and 6-for-10 from behind the arc in the first half and came close to singlehandedly matching the Pacers’ point total of 42.

“He’s got that prizefighter-like mentality,” Milwaukee coach Doc Rivers said of Lillard after the game. “It’s almost like he’s training for the fight. When the bell rings, he seems to be ready.”

Lillard spoke about taking on more offensive responsibility with Antetokounmpo sidelined with injury.

“I don’t think that it’s all on me, but I know that I’ve got to be a little bit more aggressive and I’ve got to step forward a little bit more assertively,” said the 33-year-old. “In the playoffs … it’s about setting a tone. We’re going to see this team a lot of times, and you want to establish yourself, especially on your home floor.”

Antetokounmpo's absence put the spotlight on Lillard. - Stacy Revere/Getty Images
Antetokounmpo's absence put the spotlight on Lillard. - Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Lillard’s scoring stagnated in the second half when Indiana pestered him with double teams in an attempt to quell his scoring outburst; the guard only attempted five shots, missing them all.

The Pacers outscored the Bucks by 15 in the third quarter as they endeavored to eat into the 27-point halftime deficit, but Milwaukee’s dominant first half meant that its lead was never in any real danger of being threatened.

After being drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers in 2012, Lillard spent the first 11 seasons of his career in the Pacific Northwest before being traded to the Bucks in September 2023. He was playing his first postseason game with Milwaukee on Monday, and his first playoff game since a first-round defeat with the Blazers against the Denver Nuggets in 2021.

“The last two years, not being in the playoffs, it sucked,” Lillard said. “Early vacations. Last year, I went to Coachella. I ain’t never been able to go to Coachella. It’s playing in the playoffs every year. Just having that long summer, it was like, man, I was over that.”

Three-time All-Star Khris Middleton added 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Bucks. The Pacers, meanwhile, were led by mid-season acquisition Pascal Siakam, who had 36 points, 13 rebounds and two blocks.

Siakam had it going offensively, but the Pacers defense failed to contain Milwaukee. - Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters
Siakam had it going offensively, but the Pacers defense failed to contain Milwaukee. - Benny Sieu/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

“When you have one superstar out, you’re just getting a much bigger dose of the other superstar,” Indiana head coach Rick Carlisle said postgame. “It’s not that big a bargain really.

“They looked like the experienced team and we looked inexperienced. That led to a lot of the problems early. The playoffs – you can talk about how different it is, but actually experiencing it is another thing.”

Celtics, Clippers dominate while OKC edges past New Orleans

Three other series tipped off on Sunday, with the Boston Celtics getting things underway by torching the Miami Heat, 114-94.

The first-seeded Celtics – who ended the regular season with a league-best 64-18 record – were led by a triple-double from perennial MVP candidate Jayson Tatum as they eased to the 20-point victory. Tatum posted 23 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and two steals, while Derrick White and Kristaps Porziņģis added 20 and 18 points respectively.

Miami is currently without lauded postseason performer Jimmy Butler, who suffered a knee injury in the Heat’s Play-In tournament game against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Out in the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Clippers ran out comfortable winners against the Dallas Mavericks in Game 1 of what is expected to be a competitive series between the fourth and fifth seeds. Despite missing two-way superstar Kawhi Leonard from the starting lineup, James Harden, Paul George and Ivica Zubac each scored over 20 points as the Clippers picked up the 109-97 home win.

Harden poured in 28 points for LA. - Ashley Landis/AP
Harden poured in 28 points for LA. - Ashley Landis/AP

A dismal second quarter for the Mavericks, in which they only scored eight points as a team, had them facing a 26-point halftime deficit and meant that a late fourth-quarter flurry was futile. The star backcourt duo of Kyrie Irving and Luka Dončić combined for 64 points to give Dallas hope for the rest of the series.

The final game of the day ended the streak of blowout victories, as the first-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a narrow 94-92 victory against the No. 8 New Orleans Pelicans.

The Thunder were forced to hold their breath when CJ McCollum heaved up a last-second three-point attempt, but the shot was off and the young OKC squad was able to celebrate its Game 1 win.

MVP contender Shai Gilgeous-Alexander dropped 28 points to lead the Thunder in yet another series marred by injury. The Pelicans are without two-time All-Star Zion Williamson, who left New Orleans’ Play-In game against the Los Angeles Lakers with an injury last week. Trey Murphy III led the Pelicans in scoring with 21 points in the losing effort.

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