Damian Lillard, Giannis Antetokounmpo embrace the vibes in successful season debut

MILWAUKEE — 5 minutes after Damian Lillard entered the Bucks’ services for the primary time, Giannis Antetokounmpo entered the constructing, too. After months of silence and standoffs and refusal to deal Lillard to his most well-liked vacation spot, the Miami Warmth, the Portland Path Blazers traded their franchise face to Milwaukee. And the Bucks’ incumbent Prime-75 participant in NBA historical past, a two-time MVP, wished to guarantee Lillard he seen his group changing into a real partnership regardless of years of Milwaukee having principally change into an Antetokounmpo solo act.

Lillard was imagined to conduct a bodily, however that medical examination plus some other required process needed to wait till after night time turned morning. As a result of he and Antetokounmpo sat and talked and envisioned a recipe to assert a championship, collectively.

“One of many primary issues he stored saying was, ‘I’ma do what I do, and I would like you to do what you do,’” Lillard mentioned Thursday. “And also you shut out video games.”

That’s precisely how Lillard punctuated his first outing carrying Bucks inexperienced, blitzing the visiting Philadelphia 76ers for 39 factors — probably the most in a Milwaukee debut in franchise historical past — together with 14 factors within the remaining 4 minutes of an entertaining 118-117 Bucks victory.

When the Sixers reclaimed a late lead and the competition wrestled to the end, Bucks veterans Jae Crowder and Cam Payne have been in Lillard’s ear.

“Dame, end ’em.”

“Shut ’em out.”

So Lillard did what he does. He discovered Kelly Oubre Jr. on a change on the left wing. He sized up the longer defender, baiting Oubre with a behind-the-back dribble to his proper. Then he snatched it again with a shifty crossover and stepped even additional away from Oubre’s attain to launch a 30-footer by means of cotton and provides Milwaukee a essential 116-111 lead.

However probably the most telling second got here with the sport clock dripping under 30 seconds. Clinging to a two-point edge, Antetokounmpo took the inbound cross up the ground and crossed half court docket. Lillard recalled their late-night dialog. “I used to be kinda studying him, like, ‘What you wish to do?’” Lillard mentioned. “And he was like, ‘Come get the ball.’”

Lillard collected the rock, stared at Oubre as soon as extra and this time ripped proper previous his defender to drive down the lane and draw a foul from Joel Embiid. A timeout got here earlier than Lillard’s sixteenth and seventeenth free throws of the night time, and allowed him one other personal chat with Antetokounmpo en path to the Bucks’ bench.

“He wished me to make that remaining resolution,” Lillard mentioned.

It was a well-recognized ending inside a international setting. Over a decade in Portland, Lillard would stroll by means of the again alleys of Moda Middle and onto the court docket and know each staffer all through the stadium. As he went by means of his warmups, he acknowledged face after face who’d attended his video games season after season. Thursday night time, Lillard was wandering by means of the bowels of Fiserv Discussion board, simply exterior the Bucks’ residence locker room, asking a safety guard what room held the night’s makeshift chapel, the place gamers and coaches from each groups can come collectively for a pregame second of prayer.

“It kinda seems like a highway sport proper now,” Lillard mentioned. “I’m wanting round like I’m the brand new man, despite the fact that I’ve been on this league a very long time.”

He’s settling and acclimating. Lillard has sought additional footage of his budding pick-and-roll partnership. Lillard has by no means paired with such a dynamic screener. Antetokounmpo isn’t probably the most keen screener or probably the most terrifying menace to pop and rise from distance, however he would be the most damaging downhill participant the league has ever seen.

“They’re nonetheless studying, nonetheless rising collectively, nonetheless discovering chemistry. So that is simply one other step in the fitting path,” Bucks head coach Adrian Griffin mentioned. “It takes time. That is simply gonna be a snapshot of the place we’re in the present day. And we’ll proceed to get higher tomorrow. However they’re each professionals and dealing extraordinarily arduous. However we additionally preserve the whole lot in perspective. They’ve simply had a small physique of labor collectively.”

It labored fairly seamlessly by means of one night time and one sport. Milwaukee is aware of that nothing extra is assured or given. These are largely the identical Bucks who constructed the perfect file within the Japanese Convention final season, solely to falter to the Warmth in 5 first-round video games, half methods with head coach Mike Budenholzer and finally swap All-Star guard Jrue Vacation in favor of Lillard.

The Bucks are nonetheless enduring change. The sudden departure of assistant coach Terry Stotts has left a niche in Milwaukee’s employees as Bucks officers are nonetheless working by means of the method of figuring out whether or not to exchange Stotts’ position, league sources informed Yahoo Sports activities, or just transfer every assistant up the ladder. However they may transfer by means of any staffing changes whereas Lillard is closing video games and whereas figuring out Antetokounmpo is greater than approving of the blockbuster transfer.

Should you want any additional indication as to how resounding Antetokounmpo’s three-year, $186 million contract extension has been felt in Milwaukee — after his repeated feedback about not signing any paperwork till after the season preceded the acquisition of Lillard — there’s now an digital billboard over I-794. It blinks with {a photograph} of Antetokounmpo, his signature sketched on it and a celebratory message about one of many sport’s biggest recommitting to the one franchise he’s ever recognized.

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