The Toronto Raptors had the Milwaukee Bucks just where they wanted them in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final Wednesday night.
They were battling the Bucks on better-than-even terms through three quarters, taking an 83-76 lead into the final stanza. Unfortunately, that was not enough for the visitors from north of the border.
The Raptors have to win at least one game on the road if they are going to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in team history, and they had an opportunity to steal Game 1.
However, the Bucks didn't finish with the best record in the NBA because they succumb every time they face a deficit. The fourth quarter turned out to be a signal to Milwaukee to turn up the defense and turn the game in its favor.
The Bucks did not disappoint their supporters as they outscored the Raptors 32-17 in the final period to win the game 108-100 and lead the series 1-0.
Game 2 Information
Date: Friday, May 17
Odds: Milwaukee -7 (per VegasInsider.com)
Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
Milwaukee received a remarkable game from Brook Lopez, as he scored a playoff career-high 29 points. MVP favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo added 24 points and 14 rebounds.
Antetokounmpo says the Bucks have more work to do in the second game of the series.
"We're happy," he said, per Malika Andrews of ESPN.com. "But at the end of the day, our job is not done. We gotta protect our home. We gotta be able to get Game 2."
The big problem for the Raptors in the final quarter was that the offense fell out of sync. While Kyle Lowry made five of his seven field-goal attempts, the rest of his Toronto teammates could not make one in the final period. They missed all 15 of their shot attempts and that gave the Bucks the opportunity to register their comeback victory.
While that game has to be disheartening for Toronto, head coach Nick Nurse can't let it linger. The Raptors potentially have three more opportunities to win in Milwaukee, and they need to build on the fact they took a fairly sizable lead into the fourth quarter and have stars who can score.
"We gave ourselves a chance to win a game on the road in the Eastern Conference finals," Nurse said, per Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com. "It didn't turn out, and we put in a lot of work, but you're going to file that one away and put in more work the next time."
While Kawhi Leonard could not connect on a field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter, he did score a game-high 31 points, and Lowry added 30. Pascal Siakam added 15 points, but he made just six of his 20 field-goal attempts, and the Raptors will need a bit more from the hard-working forward.
The Bucks found their legs in the fourth quarter, and they will be expected to play a more cohesive game Friday night. Milwaukee had been off since eliminating the Boston Celtics May 8.
Look for both teams to improve their shooting in Game 2. The Raptors made 34 of 92 shots from the field, while the Bucks connected on 37 of 93 shots.
Leonard connected on 10 of 26 shots, and he also made just one of five three-point shots. After his heroics in hitting the series-winning shot against the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round Sunday night, there's every reason to think he is capable of a better performance Friday.
Antetokounmpo certainly played a key role for the Bucks, but he can improve upon his seven-of-16 shooting. While he may not get another 29-point effort from Lopez, Khris Middleton should be able to come up with a more assertive performance after scoring 11 points in Game 1.
The Bucks got a scare in Game 1, and that should ensure a more consistent effort here. Milwaukee wins Game 2 by at least 10 points.