NBA Playoffs: Pacers bench achieves series-clinching victory over Bucks, Damian Lillard

The Milwaukee Bucks had a star for the sixth game they had to win against the Indiana Pacers.

However, even though Damian Lillard played, the Pacers’ tough defense and superior depth gave them the advantage in a 120–98 victory. Indiana won the series 4-2 and is now in the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

Lillard scored 28 points (7 of 16), although it was evident that he could not move as quickly and fluidly as usual due to his strained right Achilles tendon. The Pacers defended Lillard from all over the court, tiring him and forcing the Bucks to take several seconds before going on offense on each possession.

With that and coach Doc Rivers keeping Lillard on a minutes restriction, Milwaukee needed others to shoulder his scoring responsibilities. Brook Lopez scored 20 and Bobby Portis added 20, while Khris Middleton contributed 14. But Patrick Beverley only managed six points on 3-of-11 shooting while having to shoulder the ball-handling burden for a Bucks team that simply wasted

TJ McConnell scored 20 points off the bench to help the Pacers beat the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)TJ McConnell scored 20 points off the bench to help the Pacers beat the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

The last time Indiana advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs was 10 years ago. Paul George was the team’s leading scorer and Frank Vogel was the coach. That Pacers team reached the Eastern Conference finals, losing to the Miami Heat in six games.

Depth was already going to be a liability for the Bucks with Giannis Antetokounmpo injured and Lillard limited. However, Indiana’s bench unit made the difference in the game, providing energy, keeping pace and scoring while Milwaukee had no answer.

Obi Toppin scored 21 points with eight rebounds, while TJ McConnell added 20, going 7 of 9 from the field with nine assists and four steals. By comparison, the Bucks only got 10 points from their reserves.

Going into Game 6, McConnell was averaging 7.4 points during the postseason. However, he scored 10.6 points per game in the regular season and made 41 percent of his three-pointers, so a breakout like this was certainly possible. (Although he scored 20 or more points only four times this season.) And he arrived at an ideal time for the Pacers.

Toppin scored 10.6 per game entering Game 6, close to his regular-season average of 10.3 points. His 21 points were the fifth-highest total the fourth-year pro scored all season.

Indiana got 19 points from Pascal Siakam and Tyrese Haliburton scored 17. The Pacers also got solid contributions with Aaron Nesmith’s 15 points and Andrew Nembhard’s 14. But that night, it was the Pacers’ bench that shined.

While the Bucks were not doing well on the court, Beverley was increasing their problems on the bench.

In the final minutes of the fourth quarter, Beverley was seen throwing a ball to several Pacers fans sitting behind the Milwaukee bench. He can probably expect some discipline from the NBA league office.

With the Bucks’ season on the line, Lillard’s availability was uncertain until just before the game. He and Antetokounmpo were listed as game-time decisions Thursday, but Lillard had the more favorable prognosis.

Milwaukee’s star point guard was listed as questionable for the game with the Achilles injury he aggravated in Game 3, while Antetokounmpo was doubtful with the calf strain that has sidelined him since April 9. .

The Bucks did not hold a pregame shootaround for Game 6, but head coach Doc Rivers told reporters that both players “had excellent training“.

It was a dramatic series for the Bucks, matching a dramatic regular season for a team that had justifiable championship hopes after trading for Lillard. It was hoped that Antetokounmpo could return quickly after missing the final three games of the regular season, but Lillard was forced to lead the team without him.

That effort got off to an encouraging start with a blowout victory in Game 1, but things turned into a nightmare when the Pacers won Games 2 and 3, with Lillard aggravating his injury in the latter. Indiana took Game 4 and was well poised to close out the series, but the Bucks responded with a surprisingly dominant victory in Game 5.

But the Bucks couldn’t carry the momentum into Game 6. Now, a team that had championship aspirations with two of the NBA’s biggest stars and Rivers under contract for three more seasons must consider what could have been if everyone had been healthy. .