Damian Lillard was every bit as good as advertised in his Milwaukee Bucks debut.
A late push from the Philadelphia 76ers kept the game competitive, but Lillard channeled 'Dame Time' in classic fashion, dominating clutch time with a mesmerizing mix of bursty drives and high-arcing triples. With Giannis Antetokounmpo occupying the middle, Philadelphia frequently found its defense spread too thin in the game's waning moments. Lillard went to work.
He finished the game with 39 points, eight rebounds, and four assists on 9-of-20 shooting (4-of-12 from deep). That's a franchise record for points in a debut. For those concerned about the defensive drop-off following Jrue Holiday's departure, it would appear the Bucks' offense is more than good enough to make up the difference.
Damian Lillard dominates in historic Bucks debut
Lillard looks right at home in Milwaukee. After a difficult summer, marred by controversy surrounding his trade request and the Blazers' apparent refusal to grant it, Lillard has landed with a team primed to contend for a championship.
He connected with Giannis Antetokounmpo on several plays during the course of the night, while new head coach Adrian Griffin was quite creative with his game plan for the 33-year-old. Lillard received screens at different spots on the floor and was constantly leveraged as a shooting threat to open up opportunities for Giannis or other teammates.
After the game, Lillard spoke candidly about his performance — including his trademark step-back 3 late in the fourth quarter to seal the Bucks' victory.
"That's a look that I'll take seven days a week," he told Eric Nehm of The Athletic. "That's a comfort shot."
Sixers coach Nick Nurse was candid about the team's struggles to guard Lillard, noting the guard's unique stop-start ability.
"It's gonna be tough. He's hard to guard with his stop-start and his shiftiness and it's gonna be hard to guard... How many times did he go to line tonight? 30? 17? It just felt like 30."
Bucks coach Adrian Griffin was more concise.
"Dame is Dame. We knew what we were getting when we got him."
Lillard cited the crowd as a source of energy during late-game moments.
"I definitely get energy from it... I think for a lot of top players, it's a turn-on. You're like 'man, they expect us to come through.' So, I gotta come through."
It didn't take long for Lillard to gel with his new teammates. Despite him arriving just before training camp, the Bucks' offensive execution was mostly sharp on Thursday night. Credit goes to Griffin, of course, but also to Lillard. He found a nice balance between attacking (especially late in the game), seeking out Giannis, and creating for teammates out of pick-and-rolls.
For his part, Lillard said the only goal when he arrived was to connect with his teammates and start establishing chemistry.
"I said when I got traded that this happened at the right time in my career," he told reporters. "My job is to connect with the team, I started that the day that I got here, it’s been pretty seamless."
The Bucks' next game in Sunday, back at home, with the Atlanta Hawks coming to town. Lillard and Trae Young promises to be a fun show.