The new-look Milwaukee Bucks took the court for their opening contest of the 2023-24 season against the visiting Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday as the world watched.
All eyes were on Damian Lillard, who was acquired by the Bucks in late September. It’s the first time Lillard has played outside of Portland in his NBA career, and everyone wanted to see what he’d do. Well, the guard certainly made a strong opening impression, having scored 39 points, a new record for the most in a Bucks debut, in a down-to-the-wire Milwaukee win.
Damian Lillard breaks a record in debut, Milwaukee Bucks down 76ers
After a slow start – having scored just four points in the first quarter – Lillard got cooking in the second period. He started hunting for his own shot more, having tallied 17 points in under nine minutes. A huge part of that was due to his aggressiveness, having earned seven of his 17 total free throw attempts in that quarter alone.
Following the pattern of the game, Lillard scored just four points in the third quarter before the tides turned and he flipped the switch in the fourth. The point guard, who has quite a reputation for his clutch heroics, lived up to the stories, having notched 14 points in the final quarter. Again, his aggressiveness paid off, as Lillard earned six tries at the charity stripe, sinking all of them.
Just under four minutes to go, the Bucks trailed by two before Lillard sunk a deep three off a pass by Giannis Antetokounmpo to put Milwaukee up one. About a minute later, he finished through a barrage of contact for an and-one inside. His final bucket of the period came with just a tick over a minute left, having sunk a side-step triple to put the Bucks up by five points.
In total, Lillard finished with 39 points on 45 percent shooting while tallying eight rebounds and four assists in 37 minutes. Talk about making a strong first impression. The guard certainly lived up to the hype in his first official matchup in green.
Elsewhere in green, Giannis Antetokounmpo stuffed the stat sheet with 23 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, two steals, and two blocks, but it was not his finest performance. The Greek Freak went just 3-of-9 on his free throw attempts and had seven turnovers. It looked like he was trying to get out some of those first-game-of-the-season jitters.
Khris Middleton, who is still working his way back to 100 percent following off-season surgery, was limited to just 16 minutes as the coaching staff keeps him on a tight leash. In that timeframe, he finished with six points, four assists, and two steals. Game by game, his workload and minutes should both increase.
Lillard stole the show in the season opener, and this was likely just a taste of what he has to offer. He and the Milwaukee Bucks will be back in action against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday.
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