Giannis gets huge lift from Lopez as Bucks escape Raptors
LOS ANGELES, USA – Milwaukee found an unlikely game hero in Brook Lopez to backstop Giannis Antetokounmpo as the Bucks rose from a double-digit deficit against the Toronto Raptors, 108-100, in the series opener of the NBA Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday, May 15 (Thursday, May 16, Philippine time).
Lopez dropped a career-high 29 points, including half of the Bucks’ 10-0 run in the last 3 minutes that sealed the game.
“It was a complete team effort,” said Lopez. "We'd been playing with good energy the whole game but shots weren't going down for us. So we knew we just had to keep grinding, which is what we've been doing all season long."
Lopez, who was averaging only 8 points in the playoffs, drained one of his 4 clutch triples with 1:55 minutes left that gave the Bucks a 104-100 lead. The seven-foot center also had 11 rebounds and 4 blocks.
Antetokounmpo delivered his usual all-around numbers, dropping a double-double of 24 points and 14 rebounds on top of 6 assists, 3 blocks and a couple of steals.
"We've learned never to hang our heads, never give up, and we haven't all season," added Lopez. "They hit us, but we stuck with it and stuck together as a team."
The Raptors leaned heavily on Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam, who all played over 40 minutes and looked gassed out by the closing minutes.
Leonard finished with a game-high 31 points and Lowry also came up big, shooting 7-of-9 from three-point range to finish with 30 points.
Leading by 13 early, 28-15, the Raptors had the game in control virtually all the way and fended off every Bucks comeback attempt.
But come crunchtime, the Raptors couldn’t buy a basket and wound up scoreless in the last 3 minutes.
“The 4th quarter killed us,” said Lowry. “Turnovers, missed shots – we just didn’t play sharply as we should have.”
Khris Middleton also had a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds for the Bucks as Malcolm Brogdon (15 points) and Nikola Miroctic (13 points) chipped in double figures.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer praised the overall contribution of the team but singled out Lopez for special praise.
"Big game from Brook on both ends of the court," Budenholzer said. "In the first half we were struggling but Brook was able to manufacture a couple of things.
"And several times in the 4th quarter he was out there making big-time plays – blocks, rebounds, contests. Certainly in a big moment, that was a great Brook Lopez tonight."
Two free throws from Leonard had nudged Toronto into a 100-98 lead as the clock wound down on a pulsating opening installment of the best-of-seven series.
But a Lopez dunk gave the Bucks a 101-100 lead and then a three-pointer from the towering 31-year-old took Milwaukee 4 points clear.
Two free throws apiece from Eric Bledsoe and Middleton completed the scoring as the Bucks pulled away to win.
Game 2 takes place on Friday, May 17 (Saturday, May 18, Philippine time). – With a report from Agence France-Presse