For the second year in a row, Milwaukee Bucks exit playoffs in first round

Bucks lose to Indiana Pacers in Round 1 of the NBA playoffs

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo, center, and guard Pat Connaughton (24) watch from the bench during the second half against the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Before the start of the season, hundreds of excited Milwaukee Bucks fans waited hours outside of Fiserv Forum to welcome Damian Lillard — the newest member of the team — to the city.

Lillard’s arrival came with high expectations for the Bucks to repeat what they accomplished in 2021 when they won their first NBA Championship in 50 years. Thursday night in the Deer District, around 100 fans watched on as Lillard and the Bucks lost to the Indiana Pacers in Game 6 of the playoffs, ending those hopes.

It’s the second season in a row the Bucks exited the playoffs in the first round.

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Excited Milwaukee Bucks fans wait for Damian Lillard to arrive at Fiserv Forum for the first time. Evan Casey/WPR

It was a playoff series where Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t play in any games because of an injury. Lillard himself was injured and was only able to play four of the six games in the series.

“Everybody gave it their all, it just wasn’t good enough,” Khris Middleton said during a postgame press conference Thursday. 

Head coach Doc Rivers said the injuries didn’t help, but he praised the opposing team.

“They’re (Pacers) just a tough team,” Rivers said during a press conference. “Obviously, we had guys out and all that and that’s hard, right? But (I) just give them credit. I thought they (Pacers) played terrific.” 

Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard (2) shoots over Milwaukee Bucks guard Pat Connaughton (24) during the second half in Game 6 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series, Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Indianapolis. Michael Conroy/AP Photo

Rivers tried to focus on the positives at the end of the season. The Bucks were the first team in NBA history to win a playoff game with their top two regular season scorers not playing in that game. That occurred when the Bucks beat the Pacers 115-92 Tuesday night. 

“That’s history,” Rivers said about that accomplishment. 

“It’s hard to do,” he added. 

Even though they lost, Rivers said he believes his team battled hard.

“No one wavered, not one guy wavered. Every single guy in that locker room thought even without those guys (Antetokounmpo, Lillard), we were still going to win this series. And that says a lot about the character of your team,” Rivers said. 

LA Clippers head coach Doc Rivers.
LA Clippers head coach Doc Rivers watches during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks Wednesday, March 21, 2018, in Milwaukee. Morry Gash/AP Photo

The Bucks were among the top contenders picked to win the NBA Championship before the start of the season. But their season was mired with “inconsistency,” according to Ti Windisch, host of the Milwaukee Bucks focused “Gyro Step” podcast.

“I think this season, it was really a story of inconsistency,” Windisch said. 

“My expectations were sky high coming into this season,” he added. 

The franchise had high hopes for first-time head coach Adrian Griffin as well. But Griffin was fired 43 games into the season. General Manager Jon Horst did say there wasn’t one “specific instance” that led to Griffin’s firing, but reports had been swirling for weeks about a rift between players and the coach.

Even so, Griffin led the team to a 30-13 record, the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Before his firing, the Bucks had struggled defensively.

The Bucks hired veteran coach Doc Rivers after firing Griffin. Defense was one thing  Rivers focused his efforts on. But he wasn’t able to turn things around going into the playoffs, as his regular season record with the team was 17-19.

Bucks General Manager Jon Horst talks to the press.
Bucks General Manager Jon Horst talks to the press. Evan Casey/WPR

“It was a rollercoaster of a year,” Lillard said during a postgame press conference.

For Lillard, it was his first time playing with an organization other than the Portland Trailblazers, where he was traded from. It was a lot to get used to, he said.

“For me personally, it was a year of growth more than anything,” Lillard said. “A lot of growth, a lot of getting used to new things.”

After the loss, Rivers said he’s focusing on next year already.

“Its rare — usually right after the year, you want to go take a break. I can’t wait to get started, ” he said.

“I’m going to do whatever I can for this franchise, I really am. I think we can win, I do,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can to create that because it means more to me than I think you think.”

Milwaukee Bucks celebrate championship
In this July 20, 2021, file photo, the Milwaukee Bucks celebrate with the championship trophy after defeating the Phoenix Suns in Game 6 of basketball’s NBA Finals in Milwaukee. Paul Sancya/AP Photo