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Stephen A. Smith: Damian Lillard can lead Milwaukee Bucks past Pacers under 1 condition

Not Damian Lillard. Not Milwaukee’s offense. We talkin’ bout defense.



Stephen A. Smith in 2021.
Stephen A. Smith in 2021.

Damian Lillard’s 35-point first-half explosion in Game 1 of the Milwaukee Bucks opening-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Indiana Pacers set the tone for his team’s 109-94 win. It’s not the first time Dame Time has appeared in the playoffs and it surely won’t be the last.

But the NBA isn’t a one-man show, especially during the postseason.

Khris Middleton had a double-double for Milwaukee, finishing with 23 points on 9-of-14 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds and 4 assists. Bobby Portis, starting in place of the injured Giannis Antetokounmpo, had a double-double of his own with 15 points and 11 assists.

But we would be remiss if we didn’t mention the job the Bucks did on the other end of the floor against one of the best offenses in the league. According to one NBA expert, duplicating that level of execution will be more important to winning Game 2 than Lillard filling up the highlight reel with and-ones and step-back buzzer beaters.

ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith says Milwaukee Bucks must repeat Game 1 defensive performance

The Pacers were the No. 1 scoring offense in the NBA this season at 123.3 points per game. They led the league in field-goal percentage (50.7) and were ninth in 3-point percentage (37.4).

Point guard Tyrese Haliburton cooled off after a torrid start but still finished the year averaging 20.1 points and 10.9 assists with 48/36/86 shooting splits. Trade deadline acquisition Pascal Siakam averaged 21.3 points after arriving in Indiana.

In five regular-season games against Milwaukee, four of which were wins, Indy scored 128.8 ppg on nearly 50 percent shooting. The sixth-seeded Pacers were a trendy pick to upset the third-seeded Bucks because of their offense.

The script completely flipped in Game 1. Indiana didn’t even crack 100 points. It shot under 40 percent from the floor and went 8-of-38 (21.1 percent) from three. Haliburton only managed seven field-goal attempts and finished with 9 points. No one outside of Siakam scored more than 17.

When asked if he believes Lillard is good enough to carry the Bucks to a series win, Smith said yes but only under one condition:

If the same Milwaukee defense shows up for the rest of the series, because not only was Indiana held below 100 points for only the second time this season … the only team to shoot 50 percent from the field this season was the Indiana Pacers. They shot below 40 percent (in Game 1) for the first time all year.

Was it a master class in defense by Milwaukee? Just a bad night for the Pacers? A combination of both? Game 2 will give us a better idea. But if the Bucks can do what Smith said and clamp down on Indiana’s offense, Haliburton and Co. could be headed for a first-round exit.

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Andrew Hanlon is the Assistant Editor for The Dunk Central. He earned a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and has been writing about sports professionally for more than a decade. He started out covering local high school sports before transitioning into a full-time NBA connoisseur. He has been published on FanSided, SBNation and Sportscasting.