Lopez's big 4th quarter rescues Bucks in Game 1

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MILWAUKEE — Brook Lopez was frustrated. His early 3-pointer missed badly, his fadeaways were clanking off the back rim and he was struggling to find a rhythm within Milwaukee‘s offense.

The 7-foot center shook his head in disgust as Toronto raced out to a 34-23 first-quarter lead Wednesday night. The Raptors, hoping to steal home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference finals, kept their momentum rolling and controlled the game through three quarters.

But Game 1 turned on the Bucks’ strong fourth-quarter comeback, with Lopez hitting key shots to seal the come-from-behind 108-100 win.

“We just don’t quit as a unit,” Lopez said. “We keep hounding, keep hounding, keep hounding and grinding, and then we finally got there. There’s no quit in our team. I don’t think it’s really in our DNA at all.”

All told, Lopez scored 13 of his playoff career-high 29 points in the fourth quarter. He finished with 11 rebounds, two assists and four blocks. Lopez hadn’t scored at least 29 points in a game since March 2018 and hadn’t grabbed 11 rebounds since October 2017.

Down the stretch, Lopez was crucial. He got a layup. Then he buried his third 3-pointer of the quarter to give the Bucks a 104-100 lead with less than two minutes remaining. He stood up Kawhi Leonard and stripped the Raptors forward of the ball. Then, with a little more than a minute remaining, he claimed a long defensive rebound to end another Toronto possession.

“This is the Brook we all know and love,” Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We just want him to be aggressive, especially in this series.”

Without Lopez’s late-game heroics, the Bucks easily could’ve dropped Game 1 for the second straight series. Toronto guard Kyle Lowry drained seven 3-pointers and scored 30 points, and the Raptors were the more energetic team early despite having less rest time between series.

The Bucks suffered the sluggish start they had wanted to avoid. The Game 1 blowout loss to the Boston Celtics weighed heavy on the minds of Milwaukee’s players — perhaps becoming paralyzing at the outset.

Slowly but surely, the Bucks cut the Raptors’ lead to single digits and the Fiserv Forum crowd rose in unison to holler their approval. Finally pulling close in the fourth quarter, the Bucks cut Toronto’s lead to four and then two. Again, fans stood and squealed only to deflate once the Raptors answered.

The comeback wasn’t all pretty. Khris Middleton plowed into a Raptors defender, drawing an offensive foul that preceded a Lowry 3. On the next possession, Middleton dribbled the ball out of bounds. Despite those offensive hiccups, Middleton was essential in Milwaukee’s defensive game plan on Leonard, who scored only two of his 31 points in the fourth quarter.

“I think we need games like this because not every game is going to be a blowout,” Antetokounmpo said. “Not every game is going to be easy. And I think this game definitely made us better.”

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