MILWAUKEE (AP) Damian Lillard’s sensational start ensured the Milwaukee Bucks would fare just fine without Giannis Antetokounmpo in their playoff opener.

Lillard scored all 35 of his points before halftime and the Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Indiana Pacers 109-94 on Sunday while Antetokounmpo watched from the bench.

“I don’t think that it’s all on me but I know that I’ve got to be a little bit more aggressive and I’ve got to step forward a little bit more assertively,” Lillard said. “In the playoffs ... it’s about setting a tone. We’re going to see this team a lot of times, and you want to establish yourself, especially on your home floor. That was just my mentality, to come out and try to set the tone.”

The Bucks needed Lillard to step up without Antetokounmpo, whose return date is uncertain as he deals with a strained left calf that also caused him to miss Milwaukee’s final three regular-season games. Game 2 of the playoff series is Tuesday in Milwaukee.

Lillard came through by setting a Bucks record for points in either half of a playoff game. He didn't score at all and attempted only five shots in the second half as the Pacers focused on slowing him down, but the damage was done by that point.

“He's got that prizefighter-like mentality,” Bucks coach Doc Rivers said. “It's almost like he's training for the fight. When the bell rings, he seems to be ready.”

This was Lillard's first postseason game since 2021. He spent his first 11 seasons with the Portland Trail Blazers before the Bucks acquired him in a trade.

“The last two years, not being in the playoffs, it sucked,” Lillard said. “Early vacations. Last year, I went to Coachella. I ain't never been able to go to Coachella. It's playing in the playoffs every year. Just having that long summer, it was like, man, I was over that.”

Pascal Siakam had 36 points and 13 rebounds for the Pacers, who hadn't scored fewer than 99 points in the regular season while averaging a league-high 123.3 points per game. The Pacers shot 8 of 39 from 3-point range.

Indiana, which had won four of its five regular-season meetings with the Bucks, is making its first playoff appearance since 2020. The Pacers haven't advanced beyond the opening round since 2014.

“It's easy to just say we missed shots and now we're nervous or whatever,” said Indiana's Tyrese Haliburton, who had nine points, eight assists and seven rebounds. “Whatever you all are going to run with, it doesn't matter. I just feel like we missed shots, at the end of the day. The ball wasn't hopping. And they made shots in the first half and that kind of dug us a hole.”

Khris Middleton had 23 points and 10 rebounds for the Bucks, while Bobby Portis added 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Lillard had 19 points in the opening period, the highest first-quarter point total by any player in a playoff opener since at least 1997. He had the highest first-half point total for any player in a postseason contest since Kevin Durant had 38 at the break for the Golden State Warriors in a 2019 first-round game with the Los Angeles Clippers.

He then got some help from his teammates while taking a well-deserved breather. Milwaukee outscored Indiana 14-3 while Lillard was on the bench for nearly the first five minutes of the second quarter.

Once Lillard returned, he picked up right where he’d left off. He sank a 3-pointer while getting fouled and completed a four-point play to extend Milwaukee’s lead to 65-35. The Bucks were ahead 69-42 at halftime.

“The first half was embarrassing,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “No excuses. We’ve simply got to come out better. It was ugly, and we all own it.”

Indiana closed the third quarter with nine straight points to get Milwaukee’s lead down to 83-71, but the Bucks regained control.

Jae Crowder and Malik Beasley made 3-pointers on consecutive possessions to start an 8-0 run that extended Milwaukee’s lead to 99-77 with 8:10 left. Milwaukee stayed ahead by at least 14 the rest of the way.



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