Brook Lopez outduels Kyle Lowry to deliver wild Game 1 win for the Bucks

Yahoo Sports

Brook Lopez and Kyle Lowry traded 3-pointers down the stretch of a conference finals game in the year 2019, and it made for a glorious start to this Milwaukee Bucks-Toronto Raptors series.

The Raptors did not make a field goal after Lowry’s seventh triple tied the game with four minutes left, and Lopez delivered the dagger, draining his fourth 3 of the night during a 10-0 run that closed out a 108-100 win. The 7-foot former All-Star scored a career playoff-high 29 points for the Bucks, while the Raptors squandered Lowry’s first 30-point playoff game in three years.

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“In a big moment,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer told reporters after the victory, “that was a great Brook Lopez.”

Lowry and Kawhi Leonard combined to score 61 points, and Toronto held Milwaukee superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo in check, which for him still meant 24 points, 14 rebounds and six assists. The end result was a blown opportunity by the second-seeded Raptors to steal home-court advantage, and it was the sort of soul-crushing loss that can bleed into another.

Lopez spent four seasons with his back to the basket for the New Jersey Nets, which gives you an idea of how unlikely this moment was for him even a year ago, when the Los Angeles Lakers let him walk for a mere $3.4 million from Milwaukee. After attempting only 31 total 3-pointers in his first eight NBA seasons, Lopez began taking and making them at an alarming rate in his final season in Brooklyn. His evolution led to an NBA record this season for 3’s made by a 7-footer.

The 31-year-old had not appeared in the playoffs since 2015, when he did not attempt a single postseason 3, and here he was taking 11 in his first ever Eastern Conference finals game.

On the other side was Lowry, whose career playoff struggles are well-documented. He finished scoreless in Game 1 against the Orlando Magic in the first round and was held to single digits in the conference semifinals opener against the Philadelphia 76ers. He exploded in Game 1 of this series, scoring 30 points on 15 shots, including 7-of-9 shooting from distance. He had not scored 30 in a playoff games in his last 30 outings. It wasn’t enough. While he made five of his seven fourth-quarter shots, his teammates finished 0-for-15 in the frame. That was the game.

“It’s been a while since he’s had one of those nights where every time he pulled up, you thought he was going to make it,” Raps coach Nick Nurse told reporters after the difficult defeat. “Every time he let it go tonight, you were like that's going in. … He was good. He was awesome."

“Individual stuff doesn’t do anything for me,” added Lowry. “I want to win games.”

Toronto weathered an early storm, including a monstrous Antetokounmpo transition dunk, and rattled off a 16-0 run that featured 3-pointers from every starter but Leonard. The Bucks gave up more 3’s than anyone this season, and their early strategy of sagging off the Raptors paid off about as well as it did in Game 1 of their last series against the Boston Celtics — not so great.

Siakam, Lowry and Gasol were all quick on the trigger, a welcome sign for Toronto after that trio shot a combined 2-for-13 from distance in Game 7 against the Philadelphia 76ers. The combo of Leonard and Siakam that averaged 52.6 points through two rounds of the playoffs were back at it in the first quarter, scoring 18 points between them to stake the Raptors to a 34-23 lead.

As hot as Toronto started, Milwaukee was cold. They shot 3-for-15 from beyond the arc in the opening frame and sub-40 percent from the field in the first half. Antetokounmpo had 13 points and nine rebounds at the break, but he wasn’t making an MVP impact. Toronto’s defense threw everything and everyone at him, even playing a 3-2 zone, and it helped that Leonard got away with clobbering Giannis at the rim as the buzzer sounded on the Raptors’ 59-51 halftime edge.

Toronto did well to respond to Milwaukee’s runs, quieting the crowd when flurries from Lopez and Eric Bledsoe brought the Bucks within a single possession midway through the second and third quarters, respectively. The Raptors’ defense tightened, and Antetokounmpo’s supporting cast went quiet for long stretches. Bledsoe finished the first half scoreless. Middleton, Nikola Mirotic, George Hill and Pat Connaughton were a combined 0-for-15 from 3 through three quarters. Only Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon were giving Antetokounmpo any help.

Brook Lopez scored a playoff career-high 29 points in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. (AP)
Brook Lopez scored a playoff career-high 29 points in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. (AP)

Yet, the Raptors needed a buzzer-beating 3 from Siakam to take a seven-point lead into the fourth. Prior to that shot, Leonard and Lowry had scored all 21 of Toronto’s points in the quarter.

The Raptors’ cold streak left the door ajar, and Lopez kicked it open, sinking back-to-back 3’s to draw the Bucks within one to start the fourth, and a pair of Mirotic free throws gave Milwaukee its first lead since the 8:44 mark of the opening quarter, 84-83 with 10 minutes to play. The floodgates opened, and the Bucks made five fourth-quarter 3’s after going 0-for-11 in the third.

Lowry did his best to respond again and again, with his fifth, sixth and seventh 3’s down the stretch. (He was just 9-for-39 from deep in the second round.) But his trigger slowed when it mattered most. After a Lopez dunk gave Milwaukee a late 101-100 lead, Lowry hesitated as Lopez closed out on an open 3, and Lopez responded on the other end with the dagger.

The idea that those two — the doughy 6-foot-1 Lowry and oafish 7-foot Lopez — would duel late in a conference finals game that featured Leonard and Antetokounmpo seemed ludicrous only hours ago. We may never see it again, but Milwaukee will have The Brook Lopez Game forever.

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Ben Rohrbach is a staff writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter! Follow @brohrbach

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