The Bucks, who basically took a full week off before last night’s game, won a thrilling Game 1 by a score of 108-100 over the Raptors in the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night, pulling off a 32-17 fourth-quarter win to take the first game and maintain homecourt advantage, and a 1-0 lead over the Raptors.
As usual, Giannis Antetokounmpo was a star, racking up 24 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, two steals, three blocks and a 3-pointer on 7-of-16 shooting, but he had some serious help in this one. Center Brook Lopez went crazy and was the star, hitting 12-of-21 shots and four 3-pointers to finish with a team-high and career playoff-high 29 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and four 3-pointers in 35 minutes. I really thought centers Marc Gasol and Lopez would take a backseat in this series, and it’s still possible it happens, but BroLo played 35 minutes last night, and Gasol logged 40 minutes, while Serge Ibaka played just 17 minutes in the Toronto loss. Lopez scored 13 of his 29 in the fourth quarter and the Bucks closed on a 10-0 run to take Game 1, despite trailing for 37 of the game’s 48 minutes. Lopez was amazing on both ends of the court and helped make up for the fact that Eric Bledsoe laid an egg, hitting just 3-of-12 shots and missing all six of his 3-pointers for nine points, five rebounds, two assists, a steal and zero turnovers. Khris Middleton matched up with Kawhi Leonard for much of the night and finished with 11 points, 11 boards, four assists, a steal and a 3-pointer, but hit just 4-of-12 shots, while Nikola Mirotic hit 3-of-9 shots and a 3-pointer for 13 points, six boards and a block. As you can tell by those numbers, Giannis and Lopez are the reasons the Bucks were able to fight back and take Game 1 at home, as most of the other Bucks didn’t show out. Malcolm Brogdon’s play was encouraging off the bench as he recovers from his foot injury. He hit 5-of-9 shots and three triples for 15 points, three boards and three assists in 27 minutes, but the rest of the Bucks so called ‘Bench Mob’ failed to show up in this one.
The Raptors got 31 points, nine boards, two assists, three steals and a 3-pointer out of Kawhi Leonard, but he hit just 10-of-26 shots on the night. Hitting 10-of-10 free throws helped save Kawhi last night, but he couldn’t save the Raptors from a fourth-quarter collapse on the road. Kyle Lowry, who had been struggling in the playoffs, finally caught fire and scored 30 points for the Raps. He hit 10-of-15 shots and a career playoff-high seven 3-pointers, finishing with 30, eight boards, two assists and a steal. The seven triples were also a season high for Lowry. If you’re wondering how the Raptors blew a lead and failed to score down the stretch, Lowry’s teammates were 0-for-15 in the fourth quarter, while he hit 5-of-7 shots. Ouch. Giannis guarded Pascal Siakam for much for much of the night and held him to 15 points, six boards, a steal, a block and two 3-pointers, hitting just 6-of-20 shots. I said I was riding Lowry and fading Siakam in my Eastern Conference Preview, but I also didn’t expect Gasol and Lopez to play such massive roles, which hurt me in Game 1. Ibaka played just 17 minutes and finished with four points, four boards, a steal and a block on 2-of-6 shooting, but given that the Raptors lost, and Gasol hit just 2-of-11 shots for six points, 12 boards, five assists, two blocks and two 3-pointers, maybe Nick Nurse will rethink that strategy.
The Raptors are now 3-15 in Game 1s in their history and lost their first playoff game this season when leading at halftime (8-1). The Bucks’ George Hill is the only Milwaukee player to play in a previous conference finals game before last night, while the Raptors had seven players who had played in one before Wednesday (Kawhi, Danny Green, Ibaka, Lowry, Gasol, Norman Powell and Patrick McCaw).
Game 2 is Friday in Milwaukee, and I’m anxious to see how the Raptors are going to deal with Lopez, what Gasol and Ibaka’s roles will be, and if Lowry can keep it going in Game 2. My guess is we won’t see Lopez dominating in that one.
Western Conference final
Portland is at Golden State tonight and find themselves in a 1-0 hole against the best team in the league. Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins are out again, and Damian Lillard is a little banged up (hamstring). The Blazers, in my opinion, are already in a must-win situation tonight if they’re going to win this series. They were blown out at the end of Game 1 on Tuesday night, and Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum combined to hit just 11-of-31 shots in that one. If Lillard and CJM don’t outscore Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson on a nightly basis, the Blazers are in real trouble. The game is at 9 p.m. on ESPN.