Nearly every team would love to trade problems with the Bucks, but the concern was legitimate entering the conference finals. Milwaukee swept the Pistons in historically dominant fashion. Then, after getting blown out in Game 1 by the Celtics, the Bucks responded with four straight wins… in historically dominant fashion.
How would Milwaukee handle a tight game?
The Bucks rose to the challenge, beating the Raptors 108-100 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday. If the eight-point win doesn’t look close, it’s only because Milwaukee was so impressive in crunch time. The Bucks ended the game on a 10-0 run.
This exciting contest bodes well for a fun series. Expect even more juice in Game 2 Friday.
Though Milwaukee beat Boston by just seven points in Game 3 last round, that was misleadingly close only because the Bucks ceded a late run after putting the game out of reach. Tonight’s game was tightly contested until very late.
Nobody put their fingerprints all over it like Brook Lopez (29 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks). After missing five of his first six 3-pointers, he hit 3-of-5 from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter. That timely shooting complemented the strong interior defense he played throughout.
Kyle Lowry (30 points on 10-of-15 shooting) was also awesome. He made all his usual contributions – passing, hustling to loose balls, taking a charge. He just shot with supreme confidence, too.
Those two overshadowed the game’s stars, though Giannis Antetokounmpo (24 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, two steals, three blocks) and Kawhi Leonard (31 points on 10-of-26 shooting) were still quite good. Like Lopez, Antetokounmpo came up huge defensively.
The Bucks have built their offensive identity as long-range bombers, and they barely strayed from it tonight despite a cold start. Still, Milwaukee finished just 11-for-44 on 3-pointers (25%). In playoff games prior to tonight, teams that attempted more than 40 3-pointers and made fewer than 30% of them were just 1-9.*
*The Trail Blazers beat the Nuggets in quadruple overtime last round despite shooting just 12-of-42 on 3-pointers (29%).
The Bucks just kept defending, kept crashing the offensive glass, kept playing hard.
That steadiness helped Milwaukee survive the Raptors’ early hot shooting, which Toronto used to build a quick 13-point lead. Once they stopped draining everything, the Raptors didn’t have enough answers. Toronto in the second half:
- Kyle Lowry: 21 points (7-of-9 shooting)
- Kawhi Leonard: 16 points (5-of-15 shooting)
- Pascal Siakam: 4 points (1-of-8 shooting)
- Other Raptors: 0 points (0-of-15 shooting)
It was even more grimly unbalanced in the fourth quarter:
- Kyle Lowry: 14 points (5-of-7 shooting)
- Other Raptors: 3 points (0-of-15 shooting)
The Raptors defended well in the halfcourt, rotating sharply and displaying impressive lateral quickness on drives. Toronto could have won despite its late offensive collapse.
But Milwaukee found a way through transition and second-chance scoring.
The Bucks have won bigger this postseason. I’m not sure they’ve won more satisfyingly.