Andrew Nembhard looks to slow down Damian Lillard

Few NBA players making their playoff debut in the postseason have a tougher mission than Andrew Nembhard.

The former Gonzaga men’s basketball star in his second season with the Indiana Pacers spent much of his first two playoff games chasing All-NBA guard Damian Lillard through ball screen after ball screen. ball, trying to do Lillard’s job of carrying the Milwaukee Bucks without twos. -MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo’s time all the more difficult. Nembhard has already guarded some of the league’s best players early in his career, although Lillard tops the list as one of the highest scoring players in the playoffs in recent memory. The 6-foot-2 guard is averaging 26.0 points in 63 career playoff games and has knocked down two series-winning buzzer-beaters in his 11 years with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Now with the Bucks, Lillard was on fire from the first round against the Pacers. He scored 35 points, all before halftime, to lead Milwaukee to a 109-94 victory in Game 1, followed by a 26-point first half in Game 2. Meanwhile, Nembhard fought relentlessly through screens from Bobby Portis and Brook Lopez in pursuit of Lillard, who is second in the playoffs with 34.5 points per game. In Nembhard’s defense, he can’t do much against Lillard’s 3-pointers and fallaway jumpers.

That said, the 6-foot-5 Canadian’s resilience on both ends of the court was the difference in Indiana stealing home-court advantage after tying the series 1-1. After a quiet first game in which he had six points and three assists, Nembhard stepped up with 20 points, four rebounds and three assists in a 125-108 Game 2 win. ground and knocked down a 3-pointer.

According to, Nembhard’s latest performance was his second most productive game this season, based on “Game Score”, which was created to give a rough measure of a player’s productivity for a single match. Perfect timing for one of the best games of his career considering teammate and All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton was held to 12 points on 4-of-10 shooting from the floor in the win. Pascal Siakam had another big night with 37 points and 11 rebounds, but if Indiana wants to advance past the first round, it will need more from its starting backcourt, especially on the defensive end.

It wasn’t just Nembhard’s offensive contributions that stood out in Game 2. In the second half, he held Lillard to eight points on 3-of-9 shooting from the floor after dropping 26 points in the first half. Similar to the second half of Game 1, in which Lillard went 0 of 5 from the field and didn’t score after halftime, Nembhard was not phased by Lillard’s big scores.

Nembhard, whether intentionally or not, managed to get under Lillard’s skin after the two tangled on an inbounds play in Game 1, resulting in a double technical assessment of both guards. Nembhard earned a second technical in Game 2 after an altercation with Patrick Beverly. It’s safe to say the 24-year-old isn’t looking back on the biggest stage of his career.

This tenacity from the second-year professional allowed his team to capitalize on home court advantage in Games 3 and 4.

“It’s just about being physical, understanding what coverage we’re in and trying to execute it at the highest level possible,” Nembhard told the Indy Star after Game 2. “Staying committed to him. Make things difficult. Try to hold on to him as the game progresses.

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