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 career-playoff-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 at least 11 rebounds since October 2017.
Down the stretch, Lopez was crucial. He got a layup. Then he buried his third 3-pointer of the fourth 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, Lopez claimed a long defensive rebound to end another Toronto possession.
“This is the Brook we all know and love,” Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We just want him to be aggressive, especially in this series.”
Without Lopez’s late heroics, the Bucks easily could have 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 at home to the Boston Celtics in the conference semifinals weighed heavy on the minds of Milwaukee’s players — perhaps becoming paralyzing at the outset.
Slowly but surely, however, the Bucks cut the Raptors’ lead to single digits, and the Fiserv Forum crowd rose in unison to holler approval. Finally pulling close in the fourth quarter, the Bucks cut Toronto’s lead to four, then two. Again fans stood and screamed, 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 for 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.”