Bench players Obi Toppin and TJ McConnell lead Pacers to semifinals

INDIANAPOLIS – Obi Toppin scored 21 points and TJ McConnell added 20 points and nine assists as the Indiana Pacers won their playoff series for the first time in a decade, beating the Milwaukee Bucks 120-98 in Game 6 on Thursday night.

The Pacers will face the winner of the Philadelphia-New York series in the Eastern Conference semifinals. New York took a 3-2 lead in game six.

“I said two years ago that we are a team with big dreams,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. “We don't know exactly where it goes from here. We don't know who the opponent is. You have to have big dreams and aspirations to keep growing and keep pushing yourself.”

Toppin and McConnell are the first duo in Pacers' playoff history to each score 20 or more points off the bench in the same game, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It's the third time since rookies began tracking in 1970-71 that a team has posted a winning streak with two of its leading scorers coming off the bench, according to ESPN research. (The last time that happened was in 2020, when Norman Powell and Serge Ibaka led the Raptors over the net in the first round.)

“Obie came in and played with unbelievable energy, TJ's energy was amazing, and the energy from our bench, it just flowed the whole game,” two-time All-Star Tyrese Haliburton said.

Indiana's historic victory came exactly 30 years after it beat Orlando 3-0 to advance to the NBA playoffs for the first time in franchise history, and it came on a night when the Bucks were without Giannis Antetokounmpo once again. The two-time MVP never played after straining his left calf on April 9.

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Meanwhile, Damian Lillard returned from a right Achilles injury and played well but wasn't as dominant as he was in the first two games when he scored 69 points. Lillard finished with 28 points on 7-of-16 shooting.

Bobby Portis Jr. added 20 points and 15 rebounds for Milwaukee. Brook Lopez also scored 20 points, and Khris Middleton added 14 points and eight rebounds.

Haliburton had 17 points, 10 assists and six rebounds for Indiana, and Pascal Siakam finished with 19 points and seven rebounds. Both Toppin and McConnell had high scoring totals in the playoffs, with McConnell also having four steals.

Indiana won 8-3 over the Bucks this season, knocking out Milwaukee for the second time in a row in the first round.

easy? Not a chance. Indiana turned the game around on a 23-3 run in the first quarter to take a 29-19 lead and the Pacers never trailed again.

But every time the Bucks answered, the Pacers had an answer.

When Milwaukee cut the score to 38-34 at the start of the second quarter, Indiana scored seven straight points. When the Bucks opened the second half with a 9-4 run to get within 63-56, Indiana responded with a 10-5 run to extend the lead to 12. When Milwaukee led to 85-78 with 6:05 remaining in the third period, McConnell capped an 11-0 run with three pointers. Back-to-back scores made the score 96-78 at the start of the fourth period.

The Bucks never recovered as the Pacers extended their lead to 104-84 with 8:07 to play. From that moment on, it was a festive atmosphere at Gainbridge Fieldhouse, as Pacers players were serenaded off the field to a standing ovation.

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“Obviously we had players out and all that, which is tough, but just give them credit,” Bucks coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought they played a great role, a great city, a great franchise.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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