Lillard leads short-handed Bucks over Pacers

Agence France-Presse
Lillard leads short-handed Bucks over Pacers
Damian Lillard of the Milwaukee Bucks shoots over Andrew Nembhard of the Indiana Pacers during the second half of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round Playoffs at the Fiserv Forum on April 21, 2024 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Stacy Revere / Getty Images / AFP

WASHINGTON – Damian Lillard scored all 35 of his points in the first half as the Milwaukee Bucks struck early in a 109-94 victory over Indiana in their NBA playoffs opener on Sunday (Monday Manila time) despite the absence of Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks followed the blueprint laid out earlier Sunday by the Los Angeles Clippers and Boston Celtics, who both got off to strong starts in convincing game-one victories.

Eastern Conference top seeds Boston raced to a 14-0 lead to set the tone for a 114-94 victory over the Miami Heat in the first game of their best-of-seven series.

The Clippers, with Kawhi Leonard sidelined with knee inflammation, led wire-to-wire in a 109-07 victory over Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks, who put up just eight points in a shocking second quarter performance.

James Harden scored 28 points and handed out eight assists for the Clippers, drilling six of their 18 3-pointers.

Paul George added 22 points and Ivica Zubac scored 20 points with 15 rebounds for Los Angeles, who seized control early as Dallas and NBA regular-season scoring leader Doncic struggled.

The Mavs connected on just two of 21 attempts in the second quarter, putting up 30 in the first half to trail by 26 at the break.

Eight-time All-Star Kyrie Irving made all eight of his attempts on the way to 20 points in the third quarter as the Mavericks buckled down.

Doncic would finish with 33 points and 13 rebounds and Irving scored 31, but they were in too deep of a hole to escape.

"In the second half, that is how we should play the whole game," said Doncic, who was named Sunday as a finalist for the NBA Most Valuable Player award along with Nikola Jokic and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Mavs coach Jason Kidd said his players were too passive in the face of the Clippers early physicality, and Harden said that was just the effect the Clippers were going for.

"We know (what) offensive power those guys have over there," Harden said. "We can't ease into games. We've got to be the physicality team from the beginning and we did that."

The Clippers beat the Mavs in the first round in both 2020 and 2021, but Harden said they expected Dallas to step it up when the series continues on Tuesday.

"We can't get satisfied with winning the first game," Harden warned.

In Milwaukee, the Bucks were more than up to the task without Antetokounmpo, who remained sidelined with a left calf injury.

Lillard's explosive first half included a 19-point first quarter, and his 35 points were a record for any Bucks player in any half of a playoff game.

He made 11 of 22 shots, including six three-pointers to stake the Bucks to a 69-42 halftime lead.

He didn't make a basket in the second half, but his teammates picked up the slack and the prolific Pacers offense was held under 100 points for just the second time this season.

Tatum triple-double

Tyrese Haliburton, chosen ahead of Lillard for the US Paris Olympic squad, finished with just nine points for the Pacers, who were led by Pascal Siakam's 36 points and 13 rebounds.

In Boston, Jayson Tatum's first playoff triple-double of 23 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists propelled the Celtics.

Miami have emerged from the play-in as the East's eighth seed for the second straight season.

Last year they beat Boston in the conference finals before falling to Denver in the championship series, but with Jimmy Butler nursing a knee ligament injury their chances of a similar run look remote.

Bam Adebayo led Miami with 24 points and six rebounds in Butler's absence.

Tatum was one of six Celtics to score in double figures and Boston made 22 three-pointers to keep the Heat on their heels.

But Tatum was disappointed that the Celtics took their foot off the gas in the fourth.

"They're not going to give up, they're not going to lay down," he said. "Human nature can play a factor, but you can't relax."

Sunday's action concluded with surprise Western Conference top seeds Oklahoma City hosting the New Orleans Pelicans.

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