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Published Time: 03.05.2024 - 13:04:13 Modified Time: 03.05.2024 - 13:04:13

Six Pacers players logged at least 15 points, while just three Bucks reached that total. Milwaukee Bucks



Coach Doc Rivers said he "can't wait to get started" preparing for the 2024-25 season immediately after the Indiana Pacers upset his injury-riddled Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the NBA playoffs.

The sixth-seeded Pacers sent the No. 3 Bucks back to Milwaukee with a 120-98 series-clinching thrashing in Game 6 on Thursday in Indianapolis. The Pacers won four of the final five games to win the series 4-2 and advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals.

"I can't wait to get started, to get to camp and be able to [get] all the things we think we need."

The Pacers outshot the Bucks 54.1% to 42.2% in Game 6. They also totaled 33 assists and 10 turnovers, compared to their foes' 19 to 12 ratio. The Pacers edged the Bucks 60-46 in points in the paint, 21-6 in points off fast breaks and 50-10 in points off the bench. They led by as many as 24 points.

Six Pacers players logged at least 15 points, while just three Bucks reached that total.

The Bucks hired Rivers on Jan. 26. Mike Budenholzer, who was fired last May, led the Bucks to a 271-120 record over five seasons, including their 2022-23 title-winning campaign.

They replaced Budenholzer with Adrian Griffin to start the 2023-24 campaign, but fired the former assistant in January. Rivers then replaced interim coach Joe Prunty and coached his first game for the Bucks on Jan. 29.

Rivers led the Bucks to a 17-19 record over their final 36 games of the regular season. They finished the regular season with at 49-33, stumbling into the playoffs after losing two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo to a calf strain in April. The star center did not play this postseason.

Fellow All-NBA selection Damian Lillard, who joined the Bucks in a major off-season trade, also sustained an Achilles injury at the end of the regular season. The star guard aggravated that injury in Game 3 of the Pacers series, resulting in a two-game playoff absence.

Rivers said Lillard's regular-season conditioning was impacted by his journey through free agency and lack of working out last off-season, playing into the Bucks' struggles.

Lillard returned from his playoff hiatus for a game-high 28-point effort Thursday, but Rivers said he lacked his typical explosion and "took a while to get going." He praised the Pacers for their pace, speed and toughness and said "fatigue was a factor" for the Bucks.

Despite the early Lillard and Antetokounmpo playoff absences, the Bucks pulled off a Game 5 victory on Tuesday, becoming the first team in NBA history to win a playoff game without the help of their two top scorers from the regular season.

"It's hard to do, man," Rivers said. "Take [Nikola] Jokic and [Jamal] Murray away [from the Denver Nuggets]. Go to each team and take their two best players away. It's going to be hard.

"We understood that, but what I loved our guys is that no one wavered. Not one guy wavered. Every single guy in that locker room thought that even without those guys we were still gonna win this series. That says a lot the character of our team."

The Philadelphia 76ers fired Rivers on May 17. The 62-year-old coach led the 76ers to a 154-82 record over three seasons and went 20-15 in the postseason. He failed to lead the 76ers past the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The veteran coach said he has had "a horrendous streak" when it comes to star players being injured during previous playoff runs, citing past ailments of 76ers star Joel Embiid and former Los Angeles Clippers players Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.

Rivers has a 1,114-782 regular-season record in 25 years as an NBA head coach. He is 113-108 in the postseason, including his 2008 title run with the Boston Celtics. Rivers-coached teams lost in their last five Game 7 appearances.

Rivers said he is "not [yet] set with" general manager Jon Horst when it comes to the Bucks' off-season roster engineering process. He also plans to evaluate his coaching staff.

"Winning is incredibly hard," Rivers said. "It takes 12 to 15 players turning themselves into one and buying in, your staff being together as one and then health. And then you still may not win. It's just hard. You aren't going to win unless you are healthy or unless you are really deep."

Antetokounmpo, Lillard, Khris Middleton and Brook Lopez are among the Bucks players that remain under contract through next season. Jae Crowder, Patrick Beverly and Malik Beasley are set to hit free agency.

"You play an entire 82-game season," Lillard said. "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."

The Pacers will face the No. 2 New York Knicks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Knicks beat the No. 7 76ers 118-115 in Game 6 of that series (4-2) Thursday in Philadelphia. Game 1 of that best-of-seven game series will tip off at 7:30 p.m. EDT Monday in New York.

The Celtics beat the No. 8 Miami Heat in the first round. Game 6 of the Cavaliers-Magic series will be at 7 p.m. Friday in Orlando, Fla. The Cavaliers lead the series 3-2.

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