Damian Lillard’s 35-Point First Half Powered The Bucks To A Game 1 Win Over The Pacers

The Indiana Pacers were a trendy pick coming into their first round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, as they went 4-1 against their divisional rivals this year and the Bucks were going to be without Giannis Antetokounmpo for at least a game or two to start the series.

However, even without Giannis, the Bucks have a team of playoff veterans compared to a relatively green Pacers team, and on Sunday evening in Milwaukee, we saw that play out as the Bucks won Game 1, 109-94.

With Giannis out, all eyes were on Damian Lillard, and he happily stepped into the spotlight with one of the best halves of basketball we’ve seen in an NBA playoff game. Lillard scored 35 points in the opening 24 minutes on Sunday night, hitting 11 of his 19 shot attempts, six of which came from three-point range, and absolutely cooked the Pacers defense that was not ready to match his energy level.

Lillard nearly outscored the Pacers by himself in that first half, as for as hot as Lillard was, the Indiana offense was equally cold. Indiana was 3-of-18 from beyond the arc in the first half and just 15-of-46 from the field, as the Bucks pressure seemed to bother the Pacers (Pascal Siakam as the exception) — and even when they did get open shots, they simply could not knock them down

Siakam was the only Pacer to have anything going in the first half (and really for the whole game), as the former NBA champion was certainly not rattled by the playoff spotlight, scoring 36 on 15-of-24 shooting on the night. His effort, along with Myles Turner coming alive briefly from three-point range and T.J. McConnell attacking downhill, allowed Indiana to stay in the game and make things briefly interesting as they went on a big third quarter run, cutting the deficit to 12 going into the fourth quarter.

However, the Bucks quickly reestablished order, as Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis, and Malik Beasley all got involved to push the lead back to 22 and effectively squash Indiana’s hopes of a stunning comeback bid.

That was crucial because after being unstoppable in the first half, Lillard went scoreless in the second half as Indiana shifted their full attention to him defensively. Their ball pressure and off-ball denial was able to take him out of the game, but eventually Middleton and company were able to find their own rhythm to put the game on ice.

Middleton finished the game with 23 points and 10 rebounds, Portis added 15 points and 11 boards, and Beasley chipped in nine points off the bench. The headline of the game for Milwaukee was Dame’s first half, but the way they responded to Indiana’s third quarter run was maybe more important. With Lillard going cold and being taken out of the equation by the Pacers defense, it was critical for the Bucks to get that kind of effort from Middleton and the others.

For the Pacers, Siakam’s performance was a bright spot, as the Bucks clearly didn’t have an answer for him defensively with Giannis out. However, there has to be a bit of a concern regarding how passive Tyrese Haliburton was in his playoff debut, as he had nine points on just 4-of-7 shooting. While he did have eight assists, Haliburton’s presence was simply not felt for most of the game. An off shooting night would be one thing, but Haliburton simply wouldn’t or couldn’t get to his shot and the Pacers suffered as a result. That will be the biggest change the Pacers need in Game 2, as Haliburton will have to be far more assertive and play at the All-NBA level he showed in the regular season if Indiana is going to beat this Bucks team.