NBA superstar guard Damian Lillard made a spectacular debut with the Milwaukee Bucks, scoring 39 points on Thursday 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.”
Lillard made 9-of-20 shots from the floor, including 4-of-12 from 3-point range, and sank all 17 of his free throws while adding eight rebounds and four assists.
Milwaukee fans roared with delight as Lillard seized command in the final minutes.
“That’s what I’m here to do, even when it doesn’t work out,” Lillard said. “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.
“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.”
In the night’s only other NBA game, Anthony Davis scored 30 points and grabbed a game-high 13 rebounds while LeBron James contributed 21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in a 100-95 Los Angeles Lakers triumph over visiting Phoenix.
“We can play better but we’re also a team that’s still trying to come together,” James said. “We’ve got a lot of room for improvement. Today was a good step in the right direction but we’ve got to be better.”
NBA all-time scoring leader James and Suns star Kevin Durant, who had a game-high 39 points, played against each other for the first time in a regular-season game since Christmas Day 2018 and hugged after the contest.
“We don’t take them moments for granted. We don’t have many left,” James said. “We try to embrace it, have fun with it, enjoy it. Two of the best to ever play this game. It’s always a treat to be on the floor with one of the greats.”
Durant passed Hakeem Olajuwon for 12th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list and sparked the Suns, who were without injured stars Devin Booker and Bradley Beal.
Lillard’s 39 points marked the fourth-best debut by any player for any NBA club, 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,” said Bucks coach Adrian Griffin. “Dame is Dame. We knew what we were getting.”
‘It’s a good start’
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,” Griffin said. “They complement each other out there. They really do. It’s only going to get better.
“It’s only one game. We showed flashes of what’s to come. We can’t lose sight of the ultimate goal but it’s a good start.”
Tyrese Maxey scored 31 points, reserve Kelly Oubre added 27 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, combined with Lillard on early baskets, a positive sign for their ability to unite.
“Anytime your team is encouraging you to be yourself and do what you do so early, it helps,” Lillard said. “I’ve had enough conversations with guys, especially Giannis, to know.”
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