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NBA playoffs: Damian Lillard's 35 powers Giannis-less Bucks in Game 1 drubbing of Pacers

This is why Damian Lillard and the Milwaukee Bucks teamed up.

With Giannis Antetokounmpo sidelined, Lillard took on the role of unquestioned No. 1 option for the Bucks against the Indiana Pacers on Sunday. He dominated — for a half, at least.

Lillard torched the Pacers for 35 first-half points in his first playoff game with the Bucks. The result was a 109-94 Game 1 Bucks win to calm concerns about playing without Antetokounmpo in Milwaukee's first-round series against Indiana.

In five regular-season games with Antetokounmpo in the lineup, the No. 3 seeded Bucks went 1-4 against the Pacers. With Antetokounmpo in street clothes, Sunday's game was over by halftime in Milwaukee's favor.

Damian Lillard headshot
Damian Lillard
PG - MIL - #0
Dame's opening playoff act
35
Pts
6
Reb
3
Ast
0
Stl
37:52
Min
Damian Lillard teed off in his first playoff game since 2021. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Damian Lillard teed off in his first playoff game since 2021. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Dame dominates first half

The Pacers as a team outscored Lillard by just seven points in the first half as the Bucks built a 69-42 halftime advantage. While Lillard lit up Indiana from long distance and at the rim, Milwaukee's defense held Indiana's league-best offense to its lowest first-half point tally of the season. It marked an emphatic victory for newcomers Lillard and head coach Doc Rivers, who was brought on early in the season to transform Milwaukee's defense.

The playoff game was Lillard's first since 2021 after the languishing Trail Blazers failed to make the postseason in each of his past two seasons while he was in Portland. He started with a 19-point first quarter capped by his third 3-pointer of the game to beat the buzzer and give Milwaukee a 30-21 lead.

With Lillard resting to start the second quarter, Milwaukee remained in control and used a 10-0 run to extend its nine-point first quarter lead to 44-24. When Lillard returned midway through the quarter, he picked up where he left off.

He pulled up from deep beyond the 3-point arc for his fourth 3-pointer to extend Milwaukee's lead to 49-39.

His sixth 3-pointer of the half also drew a foul. He made his free throw for a four-point play to extend Milwaukee's edge to 65-35.

By halftime, he'd reached a career playoff high for a half. The 35-point first-half tally was the highest-scoring by any NBA player in the playoffs since Kevin Durant scored 38 for the Warriors against the Clippers in 2019. It's the kind of explosion the Bucks were looking for when they added Lillard last offseason to pair with Antetokounmpo.

Bucks hang on as Lillard fails to score after halftime

Lillard stunningly went scoreless in the second half. It didn't matter. Milwaukee's 27-point halftime lead was more than enough to withstand Indiana's second-half effort. Lillard finished the game with 35 points, six rebounds and three assists. He shot 11 of 24 from the field and 6 of 11 from 3-point distance.

Milwaukee gave the kind of effort the Bucks hoped for when they fired head coach Adrian Griffin and replaced him with Rivers early in the season. Milwaukee held a Pacers team that led the league with 123.3 points per game to 42 in the first half and 94 for the game. The Pacers shot just 35.6% from the field and 3 of 18 (16.7%) from 3-point distance in the first half. They finished shooting 39.6% from the field and 8 of 39 (20.5%) from long distance.

The Pacers made a run as Lillard took just three field-goal attempts in the third quarter. Indiana took advantage with a 29-14 advantage capped by a 9-0 run that cut Milwaukee's lead to 83-71.

But there was no serious Indiana rally. Khris Middleton picked up the scoring slack in a 23-point, 10-rebound, four-assist effort after scoring eight in the first half. He shot 9 of 14 from the field in a return to All-Star form after being managed for injury heavily during the regular season. Milwaukee extended its lead to 102-82 as it held Indiana at bay.

As a team, the Bucks shot 46.6% from the field and 14 of 37 (37.8%) from 3-point distance. Sixth Man of the Year finalist Bobby Portis tallied 15 points and 11 rebounds while starting for Antetokounmpo.

Pascal Siakam was Indiana's only consistent threat on offense in a 36-point, 14-rebound effort. All-Star Tyrese Haliburton took just nine shots in a nine-point, eight-assist, seven-rebound performance. Center Myles Turner struggled from the field (5 of 17, 3 of 10 from 3) while posting 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists and two steals.

Will Giannis play in this series?

The Bucks were in full control as Antetokounmpo — a two-time MVP, five-time All-Defensive team member and former Defensive Player of the Year — watched from the bench in street clothes. He missed the final three games of the regular season with a calf strain, and his status moving forward is unclear. The Bucks hope to have him back in time to play in the first round, but Rivers said pregame that he's yet to practice since his injury and declined to offer a prognosis.

In the meantime, the Bucks will continue to look to Lillard and Middleton to carry the offensive load.