NBA superstar guard Damian Lillard made a spectacular debut with the Milwaukee Bucks, scoring 39 points yesterday (Philippine time), to spark a 118-117 home victory over Philadelphia.
The 33-year-old American, obtained in a trade last month from Portland, had the highest-scoring debut in Bucks history in the season opener for both clubs, eclipsing the old mark of 34 by Terry Cummings in 1984.
“I came into these type of situations knowing what was expected of me,” Lillard said.
“They are encouraging me to be the person to take control and make decisions and decide what’s going to happen in those moments,” he added.
Lillard made 9-of-20 shots from the floor, including 4-of-12 from three-point range, and sank all 17 of his free throws while adding eight rebounds and four assists.
Milwaukee fans roared with delight as he seized command in the final minutes.
“That’s what I’m here to do, even when it doesn’t work out. They trust me with that and they know, regardless of what the outcome might be on some of the nights, I’ll be able to handle it,” Lillard said.
“I don’t take it for granted, but I also really appreciate the fact they encourage you so early. Everybody knows who I am and what I do and they’re leaving me that space to do it,” he added.
His 39 points also marked the fourth-best debut by any player for any club in NBA history, trailing only Kyrie Irving, Kiki Vandeweghe and Wilt Chamberlain.
Seven-time All-Star guard Lillard scored 14 points in the final four minutes to deliver the Bucks over a stubborn Sixers team.
“Dame played a really smart game. He knew when he had to take over,” Bucks coach Adrian Griffin said.
“Dame is Dame. We knew what we were getting,” he added.
Giannis Antetokounmpo had 23 points and a game-high 13 rebounds for the Bucks, combining well in his first contest with Lillard as an inside-outside dual threat.
“We want him to be Dame. We want Giannis to be Giannis. They complement each other out there. They really do. It’s only going to get better,” Griffin said.
“It’s only one game. We showed flashes of what was to come. We can’t lose sight of the ultimate goal but it’s a good start,” he added.
Tyrese Maxey scored 31 points, Kelly Oubre added 27 off the bench and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid had 24 points for the Sixers, who were without star guard James Harden, left off the travel squad over fitness concerns.
Two-time NBA MVP Antetokounmpo, who signed a three-year contract extension worth $186 million with the Bucks on Monday, October 23, combined with Lillard on early baskets, was a positive sign of their ability to unite.
“Anytime your team is encouraging you to be yourself and do what you do so early, it helps. I’ve had enough conversations with guys, especially Giannis, to know,” Lillard said.
Lillard hit a three-pointer and added a three-point play for nine points in a 19-2 run for a 113-104 Bucks lead.
The Sixers answered with a 7-0 run, but Lillard sank a dramatic three-pointer over Oubre, and added two clutch free throws with 11.1 seconds remaining for a four-point edge, but sealing the Sixers’ fate.
Harden didn’t play in the pre-season for Philadelphia. Last season’s NBA assists leader missed practices for what the team called personal reasons.
The NBA’s only other game yesterday was the Phoenix Suns and the Lakers, with Phoenix stars Devin Booker and Bradley Beal sitting out due to injuries.
Two-time NBA champion Kevin Durant will lead the Suns against LeBron James and the Lakers, who play their home opener hoping to bounce back after a season-opening 119-107 loss at Denver on Tuesday, October 31.
NBA stars James and Durant have not played against each other in a regular-season contest since Christmas Day 2018. (Agence France-Presse)