MILWAUKEE — Down for most part of the game, clearly rusty at times after nearly a full week off, the Milwaukee Bucks looked very much like a team in trouble — until the fourth quarter.
The team with the NBA’s best record this season found its stride at the perfect time.
Brook Lopez scored 13 of his career playoff-high 29 points in the fourth quarter, Giannis Antetokounmpo added 24 points and the Bucks closed the game on a 10-0 run to beat the Toronto Raptors, 108-100, in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night.
Milwaukee forced Toronto to miss its final eight shots and outscored the Raptors, 32-17, in the fourth.
“I think it speaks a little bit to the character of the group,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They just stick with it. I think it has become a little bit of a theme in the playoffs: I think eventually, hopefully, we feel like if we stick with what we’re doing good things will happen for us.”
Lopez had a dunk with 2:20 left to put the Bucks ahead for good, added a three-pointer on the next Milwaukee possession to push the lead to four and the Bucks did just enough in the final minutes to grab the series lead.
“I think this game definitely made us better,” Antetokounmpo said.
Malcolm Brogdon scored 15 and Nikola Mirotic had 13 for Milwaukee, which closed the game on a 10-0 run.
“We just did a great job of sticking with what we’ve been doing all postseason long,” Lopez said.
Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points and Kyle Lowry added 30 for the Raptors, who led by as many as 13 early and took an 83-76 lead into the final quarter. Lowry was 5 for 7 in the fourth — and his teammates were 0 for 15.
“Fourth quarter killed us, 32-17,” Lowry said.
“They outplayed us in that fourth quarter. They got a little bit more aggressive. They made some big shots, made some big plays. It sucks when you lose like that. But we had our chance and we’ve got to learn from it.”
Lopez added 11 rebounds for the Bucks, who had three players post double-doubles. Antetokounmpo had 14 rebounds and Khris Middleton finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds for Milwaukee, which is now 9-1 in this postseason.
The Bucks trailed for 37 of the game’s 48 minutes.
It didn’t matter. They stayed just close enough until they could finish with a serious kick.
“The way guys competed and just got after it, it stands out to me,” Budenholzer said.
Pascal Siakam scored 15 for Toronto, including a three-pointer over Antetokounmpo to end the third quarter and give the Raptors a seven-point lead with 12 minutes left.
It unraveled quickly from there. And now the Raptors, who came in on the high of winning a second-round Game 7 on a buzzer-beater by Leonard, have two days to regroup.
“The game is over,” Toronto’s Marc Gasol said.
“We got to look back at it and learn but we can’t think too much about it. You come out Game 2 and try to win. You can’t replay this one.”