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Brook Lopez scored a team-high 29 points and Giannis Antetokounmpo added 24 points, 14 rebounds and six assists as the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks beat the No. 2 Toronto Raptors 108-100 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday.
Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points for the visiting Raptors, who trail the Bucks 1-0 in the best-of-seven series. Kyle Lowry posted 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 7-of-9 from three-point range.
The Raptors led by 13 points in the first quarter and held an 83-76 edge heading into the fourth. However, the Bucks outscored Toronto 32-17 in the final 12 minutes thanks in part to 13 Lopez points.
Toronto led 100-98 with 3:31 left, but the Bucks went on a 10-0 game-ending run. The Raptors missed eight straight shots during that stretch.
Brogdon Is Bucks’ Key To Making NBA Finals
Malcolm Brogdon is only two games into his return after he missed nearly two months with a minor plantar fascia tear in his right foot, but he’s been fantastic in limited action.
The ex-Virginia star scored 10 points in 17 minutes to close out the Bucks’ second-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics, and he followed that up with 15 points on 5-of-9 shooting against the Raptors in Game 1, finishing a team-high plus-18.
He didn’t take long to make an impact Wednesday, per Kevin Pelton of ESPN:
Kevin Pelton @kpelton
Since Brogdon got into the game, he’s got 11 points in 11 minutes and has knocked down three 3-pointers. He’s a team-high +9.
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps noted how good the Bucks looked with him on the court:
Tim Bontemps @TimBontemps
Have to think Malcolm Brogdon is going to return to the starting lineup in Game 2. Bucks have looked much better when he’s been on the court tonight. (Team-high plus-6).
Brogdon came through for Milwaukee after Toronto surged out to an early lead in the first quarter. Of note, he nailed a three-pointer to cut the Bucks’ deficit to 30-21 late in the frame:
Milwaukee needed his second-quarter scoring output as well. His eight points during that frame helped keep the Bucks within eight heading into halftime.
Brogdon hit three of six three-pointers on a night where his team largely struggled from beyond the arc. Scott Grodsky of CBS 58 pointed to the differential after three quarters:
Scott Grodsky @ScottGrodsky
#Bucks not named Malcolm Brogdon are 3-28 (10.7%) from 3 tonight and they are only down 7 going into the 4th.
I’m sorry but to me that’s a really encouraging stat for this series because they simply will not shoot that poorly throughout https://t.co/qDzJbuoZBk
Milwaukee got hot in the fourth en route to a series-opening win, but the Bucks wouldn’t have been in position for the comeback sans the President’s efforts.
Brogdon will need more nights like that for Milwaukee to make its first NBA Finals in 45 years, but he’s capable of doing so. He finished second on the team in true-shooting percentage, third in win shares per 48 minutes, third in player efficiency rating and third in offensive box plus-minus, per Basketball Reference.
He’s one of the most valuable players on the team and came back to the lineup right on time. If his Game 1 performance is symbolic of what to expect from him in this series, the Bucks will be difficult to beat.
Marc Gasol Presents Significant Matchup Problem for Bucks
The Game 1 postgame storylines will center around the Bucks’ Lopez-led fourth-quarter performance and the Raptors going ice-cold from the field.
Marc Gasol’s early-game excellence will likely get lost in the shuffle.
Gasol finished 2-of-11 (and 0-for-7 in the second half) en route to six points, but his meager scoring output masks his other contributions, which helped Toronto jump out to a seven-point lead heading into the final 12 minutes.
He led the Raps with 12 rebounds, five assists and two blocks and even finished plus-one despite the eight-point loss.
The 34-year-old acted as Toronto’s quarterback with his nifty passes and stat-sheet stuffing, which could spell doom for the Bucks if he starts making more shots.
Gasol’s distributing was fantastic, like when he found Leonard on the fast break for two:
Gasol won’t get credit for this pass, but his hockey assist off an offensive rebound led to another bucket:
He also excelled in quickly finding teammates for open three-pointers:
Chris Walder of The Score gave credit where it was due with this third-quarter tweet:
Gasol was the engine driving the Raptors’ offense, which managed to score 83 points through three quarters against a defense that led the league in efficiency during the regular season, per NBA.com.
The final 12 minutes left a lot to be desired, but Gasol shot 46.5 percent from the field for Toronto this season. He isn’t likely to shoot 18.2 percent for the rest of the series like he did Wednesday.
If he starts hitting shots, the Bucks could find themselves in some trouble with him on the floor.
Milwaukee will host Toronto for Game 2 on Friday at 8:30 p.m. ET. TNT will televise the game.