Damian Lillard debuts with 39 points, closes out Bucks’ win

Jamal CollierESPNOct 27, 2023, 01:23 AM ET3 Minute Read

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks have been eagerly anticipating Damian Lillard’s debut since acquiring him in a major trade one month ago. The team has encouraged Lillard to be himself on the court, particularly in crucial moments of games. And on Thursday night, Lillard showcased his talent and lived up to the team’s expectations, delivering a sensational performance in the Bucks’ season-opening victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.

Lillard, in his first game with the franchise, set a record by scoring 39 points, including the team’s final 11 points in the fourth quarter. This remarkable display of skill helped Milwaukee secure a 118-117 win.

After the game, Lillard expressed his gratitude for the support and trust of his teammates, especially Giannis Antetokounmpo, who encouraged him to take control and make important decisions during those critical moments on the court.

The game was tightly contested, with the Bucks trailing 104-102 with only four minutes left. It was at this point that Lillard took over, scoring 14 points in the final minutes, nearly matching the 76ers’ 15-point output all by himself.

Lillard further solidified the victory with a stunning 30-foot step-back 3-pointer over Kelly Oubre Jr., a shot that he confidently described as a “comfort shot.” Antetokounmpo praised Lillard’s performance, acknowledging his leadership and ability to make plays when it mattered most.

In recent years, the Bucks have been a top team in the NBA, consistently winning regular-season games. However, their performance in clutch situations has been a concern. Last season, their offense during crunch time ranked 18th in the league in offensive rating.

Comparing Lillard’s performance in this game to the Bucks’ struggles in Game 5 against the Miami Heat last season, where the entire team scored only 16 points in the fourth quarter, highlights the impact of Lillard’s arrival.

Lillard revealed that Antetokounmpo assured him of his role as the team’s closer, emphasizing his trust in Lillard’s ability to seize control in critical moments. While Lillard admitted feeling a sense of detachment from his former team, he is focused on winning and appreciates the warm welcome he has received from his new teammates and the organization.

Lillard also noticed a positive change on the court. In Portland, he often carried the burden of playmaking and decision-making. However, in Milwaukee, he observed veterans like Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez taking charge, allowing him to conserve energy and rely on Antetokounmpo’s prowess.

While Lillard recognized the initial adjustment period, he expressed confidence in his ability to contribute throughout the entire game. However, when the Bucks need him, he is ready to step up and lead the team to victory.

Bucks coach Adrian Griffin commended Lillard’s performance, noting his intelligence and understanding of when to take control. Griffin also highlighted the synergy between Lillard and Antetokounmpo on the court, indicating that their partnership will only improve over time. The future looks bright for the Bucks, as they displayed glimpses of their potential in this thrilling season opener.


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