Splash Mountain could not have picked a better time to reappear.
Struggling throughout the playoffs from behind the 3-point line, Brook Lopez made three triples in the fourth quarter on his way to a playoff career-high 29 points to lead the Milwaukee Bucks to a rousing 108-100 victory over the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals series.
Lopez made a pair of triples to open the period, prompting an 8-0 run that gave the Bucks an 84-83 lead, their first since early in the first quarter.
Kyle Lowry’s 3-pointer put Toronto back on top, and even after the Bucks took a 96-91 lead, the Raptors rallied to take a 100-98 lead thanks to three straight Milwaukee turnovers.
From there, the Bucks scored the final 10 points, with Lopez scoring five huge points. He dunked off a 2-on-1 pass from Khris Middleton to give the Bucks a 101-100 lead, then canned his third 3-pointer of the quarter to make it 104-101 with 1:55 left. Lopez bent down to the floor to grab Giannis Antetokounmpo’s pass, rose up quickly and drilled the biggest shot of the night.
Lopez followed that up by blocking and rebounding Kawhi Leonard’s attempted drive, and the Raptors did not score after Leonard’s two free throws with 3:31 left.
Lopez added 11 rebounds and four blocked shots to his night.
Antetokounmpo finished with 24 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and three blocked shots, and Malcolm Brogdon finished with 15 points, making his presence felt after missing the first round and the first four games of the second round while recovering from a torn plantar fascia. He finished with a game-best plus-18 while on the court.
Nikola Mirotic chipped in 13 points, and Khris Middleton posted a double-double of 11 points and 11 rebounds.
After a quick start and an 8-3 lead, the Bucks watched Toronto go on a 16-0 run for a 19-8 lead. It reached 26-13, and the Bucks were playing uphill most of the night.
They chipped away to within 50-47, but trailed, 59-51, at the half. They pulled within 63-62 and had Antetokoumpo at the line for two free throws. But he missed both, and Toronto scored the next nine points for a 72-62 lead.
Lopez’s tip-in with 5 seconds in the third pulled the Bucks within 80-76, but Pascal Siakam drilled a long 3-pointer at the buzzer to push it back to a seven-point margin.
Lopez made the big plays in the fourth, as the Bucks opened with an 8-0 run and closed with the 10-0 run.
Leonard led the Raptors with 31 points, but went just 10 for 26. He went 0 for 5 in the fourth quarter, and his two free throws with 3:31 left were his only two points of the period. Lowry added 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting, including 7 of 9 3-pointers.
The Bucks shot just 39.8% (37 for 93) and 25% (11 for 44) on 3-pointers. But their defense rose up in the fourth quarter, holding the Raptors to 5-of-22 shooting (22.7%) and outrebounding Toronto, 18-6.
Toronto finished at 37% (34 for 96), with starters Marc Gasol (2 for 11), Siakam (6 for 20) and Danny Green (1 for 5) all struggling.
George Hill and Pat Connaughton, two key bench players, combined to go 0 for 8 and not score, yet Brogdon himself outscored Toronto’s entire bench, 15-12. With seven more from Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee’s reserves held a 22-12 edge.
The Bucks also won despite just nine points from Eric Bledsoe and a 2-for-18 night behind the arc from Bledsoe (0 for 6), Middleton (1 for 6) and Mirotic (1 for 6).
Milwaukee lost consecutive games just one in the regular season and is 9-1 in the playoffs. Toronto will have to win consecutive games at some point to win the series.
Game 2 is Friday night at 7:30 Milwaukee time.