Thursday’s NBA playoffs takeaways: Pacers eliminate Bucks, will face winner of Knicks-76ers series

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Damian Lillard was a go for the Milwaukee Bucks’ Game 6 against the Indiana Pacers after missing Games 4 and 5 of the first-round series with right Achilles tendinitis and re-aggravating the injury during Milwaukee’s Game 3 loss Friday.

Lillard produced a team-high 28 points Thursday, but it wasn’t enough. The Pacers routed the Bucks 120-98, eliminating Milwaukee from the playoffs.

Obi Toppin paced the Pacers with 21 points. T.J. McConnell scored 20, Pascal Siakam netted 19 and Tyrese Haliburton 17.

Indiana faces the winner of Knicks–76ers. New York can advance with a Game 6 win Thursday night.

Pacers 120, Bucks 98

Series: Indiana advances (4-2)

Toppin on top

In a series that had become less about the players available and more about tactics and counters, the Pacers, who had relied incredibly heavily on production from their starters, needed an edge in Game 6. Just one more advantage to push them through to the second round.

During the regular season, Indiana led the league in bench scoring (46.8 points per game), boasting names like Benedict Mathurin and Buddy Hield that could change the course of games with their floor spacing and underrated ball handling. Without those two, Hield being traded and Mathurin being injured, as well as Jalen Smith and Isaiah Jackson largely being glued to the bench, the Pacers needed stabilizing.

Enter McConnell and Toppin, the heroes of Game 6. Both players averaged a combined 20 points per game during the year, each providing different positive attributes necessary to keep a high-octane offense humming. McConnell, the steady, pesky guard with an extremely high IQ provided consistent defense as well as veteran playmaking. Toppin, the energetic, aggressive forward capable of cutting through defenses and who is a decent floor spacer.

On Thursday night, McConnell and Toppin ultimately proved the difference between the Pacers and a Bucks team that only mustered six points from the bench. Their energy was contagious, key cogs for arguably Indiana’s best — if not most important — defensive performance of the season. Indiana is moving on. — Kelly Iko, NBA staff writer

Friday’s playoff schedule:

Required reading

(Photo: Dylan Buell / Getty Images)

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