Damian Lillard doesn’t look like he’s lost a step. The former face of the Portland Trail Blazers certainly looks like he’s now feeling comfortable with Milwaukee Bucks and his debut in the green jersey was certainly one to remember.
Facing a Philadelphia 76ers squad that was game to battle even while missing James Harden, Lillard took the opportunity to show everyone why Giannis Antetokounmpo wanted to play with him so badly. Even when his shot wasn’t falling, Lillard was able to get to the line at will – which led to his 39 points, eight rebounds and four assists with no turnovers.
Lillard made all 17 of his free throw attempts in the game and once again showed his clutch gene by scoring 13 points in the final four minutes of the game against the 76ers, including the two free throws that iced the game and preserved a 118-117 victory for the Bucks.
One of the problems that the Bucks have faced over the last season when Giannis Antetokounmpo struggles. Although Antetokounmpo had 23 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks and shot 10 of 22 from the field, he also missed a trio of three-point attempts along with going 3 of 9 from the free throw line. He was also a team-worst -13 from the field.
Now, they’ve got a bonafide co-star for the Greek Freak in Lillard. He knows how to get to his spots and also has a shotmaking ability that few players in history have. When defenses key in on Antetokounmpo, they must now face Lillard and his impeccable free throw shooting on close games. Although Lillard only went 4 of 12 from beyond the arc, the threat of his shooting will continue to keep defenses honest.
There are still plenty of questions for the Bucks, though. Their perimeter defense is nowhere near as good with Lillard as compared to Jrue Holiday – as evidenced by Tyrese Maxey and Kelly Oubre combining for 58 points for the Sixers. When they have to face a team like the Celtics, who have the double threat of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown along with Holiday (who I feel is an underrated offensive player), Milwaukee may have a hard time. It’s also worth noting that Lillard seemed to do just fine in one-on-one situations in his debut.
Khris Middleton’s role is also in question a little bit, because there may just not be enough shots to go around. Middleton took just five shots in 16 minutes of action as he still faces a minutes restriction while getting back into game shape, but Antetokounmpo and Lillard combined for 42 of the Bucks’ 82 field goal attempts.
However, with a guy like Lillard on the floor for them, it may not even matter. Lillard scored at least 30 points 33 times last season, at least 40 points 15 times, and also had a 50, 60 and 71-point game. In a modern NBA that favors offense over defense, the gamble may just work out. The question also has always been about what Lillard could do if he had help. We’re going to get the answer over the next couple of seasons.