'Frustrating': Lillard laments injuries after loss

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INDIANAPOLIS — After spending the hours leading up to Game 6 getting around-the-clock treatment on his injured right Achilles, Milwaukee Bucks star Damian Lillard said he decided he wouldn’t be able to enter the summer without knowing he did all he could to be on the floor.

Lillard returned after missing Games 4 and 5 of the series, but the shorthanded Bucks did not have enough against the Indiana Pacers, dropping Thursday’s game 120-98 and losing the series in six games.

“I don’t think I would’ve went into the summer feeling good about much if I felt like I let the team go out there and me not at least try,” said Lillard, who finished with 28 points.

The Bucks could not overcome the loss of Giannis Antetokounmpo, who missed the entire playoff series because of a left calf strain. He didn’t appear in another game after sustaining the injury April 9.

“It’s definitely disappointing because you know how much better of a team we are when he’s on the floor and how much things change when he’s on the floor,” Lillard said. “You play an entire 82-game season. You go through training camp, you go through all the ups and downs of a NBA regular season, and you get to the point where, all right, now we’re going to play for everything. And you’re not whole. You don’t have the best opportunity to reach where you want reach. So it is frustrating, it’s disappointing, but it’s part of the game.”

Bucks guard Malik Beasley added: “This just sucks. It sucks, man. I don’t even know what to think. I’m not worried about where I’m going to be next year. I’m worried about, I’m more concerned that we just got beat in the first round. I came here for a championship. I bet on myself. I bet that we would win, and we just came up short.”

The Bucks lost to a lower seed in the first round of the playoffs for the second consecutive season, despite a major overhaul over the past 12 months trying to avoid a playoff repeat.

Milwaukee fired its championship-winning coach, Mike Budenholzer, following last season’s playoff exit, bringing in longtime assistant coach Adrian Griffin to start the 2023-24 season. Despite Griffin’s 30-13 record, he was also fired in January, and the team hired Doc Rivers to help them reach a championship ceiling.

“Its rare, usually right after the year you want to take a break,” Rivers said. “I can’t wait to get started. To get to camp, and be able to put all the things we think we need.”

The biggest move for the Bucks before the season started was to acquire Lillard, a blockbuster addition after he spent the first 11 years of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers. Even though his first season in Milwaukee was filled with some ups and downs, Lillard said he is proud of his first season and looking forward to feeling more settled in 2024-25.

“It was a roller-coaster of a year, but I think for me personally, it was a year of growth more than anything,” Lillard said. “It’s been some hard times. I haven’t denied that one time this year. Basketball and personally, it’s been some hard times, but it’s never been an issue with Milwaukee.

“I get the opportunity to play with Giannis. I’m playing with veteran players. I know that the only thing we plan for is the opportunity to win the championship, and that’s why I made the decision to be a part of something like this.”

Ultimately, the Bucks did not have enough time on the floor with their best players playing together. After Rivers took over as coach near the end of January, Antetokounmpo, Lillard and Khris Middleton played a total of eight games together.

And the Bucks never got to see their big three on the floor in the playoffs.

To get a full offseason where we know what to expect about who’s going to be in that building, have those conversations and get ready for next year, I think some type of continuity, it’s going to be great for us,” Middleton said.

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