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Lillard’s unusual night in Bucks’ win includes 35 points in first half and 0 in second half

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Damian Lillard couldn’t be stopped in the first half — and couldn’t score a point in the second.

It all added up to one of the most unusual dominant performances in recent playoff history.

Lillard scored all 35 of his points before halftime in the Bucks’ 109-94 victory over the Indiana Pacers on Sunday to open their Eastern Conference first-round playoff series. Lillard set a Bucks record for points in either half of a postseason game.

“Games are hard enough,” Lillard said. “So you don’t want to come out slow and wait. You want to have your pace, you want to be sharp and be connected and be aggressive. So that was my mentality.”

With two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo on the bench nursing a strained left calf, the Bucks turned to Lillard early and often.

Lillard had 19 points in the first quarter alone. He produced the highest individual first-half total in a playoff game since Kevin Durant had 38 at the break for the Golden State Warriors in a 2019 first-round game with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Durant finished that game with 50 points. Lillard got no more the rest of the night.

Since the play-by-play era began in 1995, no player ever scored that many points in the first half and went scoreless in the second half in any regular-season or postseason game. The previous record was held by Phoenix’s Devin Booker, who had 31 points in the first half but none in the second half in a 2022 first-round playoff game with the New Orleans Pelicans.

Booker left that game with hamstring tightness in the third quarter, which explained his lack of production in the second half.

Lillard’s slowdown after halftime wasn’t due to injury. It instead was a product of Indiana’s defense.

After watching Lillard light them up in the first half, the Pacers did everything in their power to contain him the rest of the way, often defending him with multiple people all over the floor.

“Part of me was like, ‘Go get the ball, chase it and just try to keep going,’” Lillard said. “But it’s a long series.”

Lillard said he instead decided to be “savvy enough to play the long game” by seeing how the Bucks could respond to coverage in case they see it later in the series. After shooting 11 of 19 from the floor, 6 of 10 from 3-point range and 7 of 7 on free-throw attempts during that fabulous first-half performance, Lillard attempted only five shots after halftime and let his teammates get more involved in the offense.

Khris Middleton, Bobby Portis and Brook Lopez all attempted more shots than Lillard in the second half. Middleton scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half.

“It was crazy, just picking him up full-court, denying him,” Portis said. “I think that’s mad respect, for real, for real, though, just to deny someone the ball and not let him get it.”

Lillard said he was fine playing the role of a decoy at times in the second half just to see if the Bucks could keep their offense flowing without him scoring.

“And we were able to do that,” Lillard said. “That’s what it’s going to take, just giving ourselves up for each other.”

The Pacers are hoping they can build off their own second-half performance to prevent Lillard from dominating them again the way he did for the first two quarters of Sunday’s game.

“The guy was making some crazy shots,” Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton said. “He’s a hell of a player. But there’s definitely some stuff we could do better, and I thought we did do it better in the second half.”


Via AP. For more news from the Indianapolis Recorder, click here.

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