Nothing is lost on me when it comes to Damian Lillard, and neither was his 39-point debut in the Milwaukee Bucks’ 118-117 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday. This is what he does, and Giannis Antetokuonmpo is more than happy to cede crunch-time duties to a guy who built his brand on clutch moments.
In the spirit of a fellow mean-mugging assassin: Lillard is the best there is at what he does, but what he does isn’t very nice. I’m certain this is only the start of a parade of highlights from him this season (that will make me sob uncontrollably). And I’m equally positive that the Bucks need to upgrade that two-guard spot right now or else they’re going to hemorrhage points to opposing backcourts.
Tyrese Maxey and Kelly Oubre combined for 58 points on 19 of 33 from the field. Even though De’Anthony Melton started the game at the two, new Philly coach Nick Nurse stuck with the hot-handed Oubre after it was evident which streaky shooter had his birthday suit on. It was an encouraging game for the 76ers amid the ongoing James Harden chicanery and further evidence that they need to move the late-stage rockstar as soon as possible.
Joel Embiid wasn’t great to open up his MVP defense, tallying seven turnovers, five missed free throws, and five fouls. He still got 24, 7, and 6, so it’s not like he was a complete disaster. My point is if I told you how Embiid and Lillard played before seeing the final score, you would’ve said the Sixers lost by 20, right?
Giannis had eerily similar numbers to the Sixer center — 23, 13, 3, with 7 turnovers and six missed freebies — so the Bucks can go higher as well, but Malik Beasley and Pat Connaughton aren’t getting any taller. A slight guard next to Lillard was a big reason why Portland perennially sucked on defense as constant dribble drives ensure layups, open threes, or foul trouble for bigs. Brook Lopez and Antetokounmpo each had four fouls, and only the latter blocked any shots. Maxey also went to the line 10 times.
Milwaukee is more dangerous with Lillard because he’s a fourth-quarter offense unto himself and is an insurance policy against bad possessions. That said, the danger goes both ways, and is exacerbated when you have a bunch of minions accompanying him in the backcourt.