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 the Philadelphia 76ers.
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.
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 as Milwaukee fans roared with delight.
Seven-time All-Star guard Lillard scored 14 points in the final four minutes to deliver the Bucks over a stubborn Sixers team that battled to the final second.
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.
Tyrese Maxey scored 31 points, Kelly Oubre added 27 off the bench and reigning NBA Most Valuable Player Joel Embiid had 24 points for the Sixers, who were without star guard James Harden, who 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.
Oubre sank a jumper, a 3-pointer and a dunk in a 14-0 run that lifted the Sixers ahead 102-94 with 6:47 to play.
Lillard hit a 3-pointer and added a 3-point play for nine points in a 19-2 run for a 113-104 Bucks lead.
The Sixers answered with a 7-0 run but Lillard sank a dramatic 3-pointer over Oubre and added two clutch free throws with 11.1 seconds remaining.
De’Anthony Melton’s 3-pointer at the buzzer only trimmed the final margin of defeat for the Sixers.
Lillard scored 21 points in the first half, making his first basket for the Bucks on a jump shot with 3:57 elapsed. He netted 17 in the second quarter as Milwaukee pulled to a 63-54 halftime lead.
Harden didn’t play in the pre-season for Philadelphia. Last season’s NBA assists leader missed practices for what the team called personal reasons.
His absence could be a violation of the NBA’s new participation policy, adopted to ensure top players were more available for games televised nationally.
Suns’ Booker, Beal out
The NBA’s only other game Thursday had the Phoenix Suns at the Lakers, with Phoenix stars Devin Booker and Bradley Beal sitting out due to injuries.
Beal, a guard obtained in the off-season from Washington, has lower back tightness that also kept him out for the Suns’ 108-104 triumph over Golden State on Tuesday in their season opener.
Booker led the Suns with 32 points and eight assists in beating the Warriors but is sidelined with a left foot injury.
Two-time NBA champion Kevin Durant will lead the Suns against LeBron James and the Lakers, who play their home opener hoping to bounce back after a season-opening 119-107 loss at Denver on Tuesday.
NBA stars James and Durant have not played against each other in a regular-season contest since Christmas Day 2018.
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