MILWAUKEE – It was a pure-hustle play that was trademark Kyle Lowry. During the third quarter Wednesday night, the Toronto Raptors point guard made like a beach volleyball player, diving wildly to bat in a wayward Danny Green pass that was heading out of bounds.
Playing with a sprained and taped left thumb, Lowry had one of his best post-season performances of his career — but it was all for nought in a 108-100 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening game of the Eastern Conference final.
“Just whatever it takes to win the game,” Lowry said. “Individual stuff don’t do anything for me. I want to win games.”
Lowry had 30 points and a post-season career-high seven three-pointers. But he was also the only Raptor to score a field goal in a horrible fourth quarter that cost Toronto the game.
“Fourth quarter killed us, 32-17,” said Lowry, who had just one 30-point game in the regular-season, and one last season. “They outplayed us in that fourth quarter. They got a little bit more aggressive. They made some big shots, made some big plays. It sucks when you lose like that. But we had our chance and we’ve got to learn from it.”
Brook Lopez scored 13 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, while Giannis Antetokounmpo added 24 points and 14 rebounds for Milwaukee.
Kawhi Leonard had 31 points, while Pascal Siakam added 15 points for the Raptors, who led for 37 of the game’s 48 minutes. But the Raptors — minus Lowry — shot 0-for-15 in the fourth.
The feeling after the game was about an opportunity that got away. Now the Raptors must regroup for Game 2 of their best-of-seven series on Friday.
“The game is over,” said Marc Gasol, who had one of his best defensive games of the post-season, but made just two of his seven three-point attempts. “We got to look back at it and learn but we can’t think too much about it. You come out Game 2 and try to win. You can’t replay this one.”
The Bucks had waited a week between series to face Toronto after dispatching Boston in five games, while the Raptors were back at it three nights after their thrilling Game 7 victory over Philadelphia.
Rather than lament the lack of rest, Raptors coach Nick Nurse suggested his team could benefit from the momentum.
Indeed Toronto dominated the first three quarters. Milwaukee looked rusty.
Backed by their solid defensive effort, the Raptors dominated for most of the night, taking a 13-point first-quarter lead, and responding well to every Bucks run. And when Siakam’s three-point shot dropped at the buzzer to end the third, it sent Toronto into the fourth with an 83-76 advantage.
And then it all fell apart.
A pair of Nikola Mirotic free throws capped an 8-0 Bucks run to begin the final frame, giving the home team their first lead since early in the first quarter. Malcolm Brogdon’s fast-break dunk put the Bucks up by five and ignited the capacity Fiserv Forum crowd of 17,345 that included Bucks legend Oscar Robinson and Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament.
A pair of Lowry three-pointers a minute and 19 seconds apart tied the game at 98-98 with 3:31 to play.
“He was great. He was fighting like heck out there,” Nurse said of his veteran guard. “I thought he threw his body in front of people on a few things, didn’t get the whistle on a few. He always draws charges . . . that’s his thing. He was awesome.”
Lopez responded however with a dunk and three-pointer and the Bucks took a four-point lead into the final 1:55.
Eric Bledsoe’s pair of free throws with 42 seconds to play all but sealed the victory for Milwaukee.
“I think this game definitely made us better,” Antetokounmpo said.
Toronto is now 3-15 in Game 1s.
How do the Raptors rebound?
“You just put it aside and move on. Next game, man,” Siakam said. “It’s going to be an interesting series. We had a chance to win tonight. We felt like we could have got this game. . . it’s a long series.”
Lowry’s seven three-pointers were one shy of his career high. The Raptors, whose three-point shooting has been well down compared to the regular-season, went 15-for-42 on the night, hitting 10 in the first half.
The Raptors had the Bucks on their heels in the first quarter. Toronto made six three-pointers in the opening frame and led 34-23 going into the second.
An Antetokounmpo dunk capped a 7-0 Bucks run that sliced Toronto’s lead to three points late in the second quarter. But the Raptors closed strong to take a 59-51 lead into the break. And when Leonard mauled Antetokounmpo under the basket on the last play of the half — no foul was called — the crowd booed long after both teams had departed for their respective locker-rooms.
The Bucks twice pulled to within four points in the third, but the Raptors were able to extinguish any Milwaukee momentum.
The Raptors were rebuilt with a big goal in mind: their first appearance in the NBA Finals. They finished second with 58 wins behind the league-leading Bucks (60 wins) in the regular season. They’re making their second conference finals appearance in franchise history (2016 was the first). The Bucks are playing in their first conference final in 18 years and are looking to return to the finals for the first time in 45 years.
The Raptors dispatched the Bucks in six games in the opening round in 2017, but Antetokounmpo has improved by leaps and bounds in the two seasons since.
The Bucks swept Dwane Casey’s Detroit Pistons in the opening round, while the Raptors ousted Orlando in five games. Milwaukee won the regular season series 3-1.
The winner of this series will have home-court advantage for the NBA Finals against either the Golden State Warriors or the Portland Trail Blazers.
The series shifts to Toronto for Games 3 and 4.
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