Kyle Lowry had 25 points, six assists and five rebounds as the No. 2 Toronto Raptors beat the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks 120-102 in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Scotiabank Arena on Tuesday.
Toronto never trailed in the final three quarters and led by double digits for the final 15 minutes.
Khris Middleton had 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting, seven assists and six rebounds for the Bucks, who are tied 2-2 with Toronto in the best-of-seven matchup. Giannis Antetokounmpo added 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.
Raptors Won't Lose Series If Lowry's Game 4 Form Continues
Lowry has the reputation of shrinking in the playoffs, but he's quickly erasing that notion in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If that continues, he'll lead the Raps to a date with the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.
The battle of the point guards (Lowry vs. Bledsoe) largely dictated the Game 4 result, and Toronto won handily.
Lowry scored 18 first-half points to help give the Raps a 65-55 halftime edge, which gave Toronto enough breathing room to hang on for the 18-point win after Milwaukee cut the deficit to six in the third quarter.
The 13-year veteran also came through in the clutch when his team needed him the most.
Milwaukee started the game 9-of-11 from the field en route to scoring 21 points in the first 5:35. At that point, the Bucks were on pace to drop 180.
The Raps needed offensive answers to avoid a significant early hole.
They got that via Lowry, who contributed to 15 of the Raptors' first 17 points (12 by himself, three after finding Marc Gasol for a triple).
He helped stem the Bucks' early wave, preventing Milwaukee from jumping out to an early lead as a clearly hobbled Leonard struggled (only five first-half points).
These weren't easy points for Lowry, either. He shot a contested corner three-pointer from a terrible angle and still nailed the bucket:
Lowry also took on 6'10" Bucks forward Nikola Mirotic and shot over him for a smooth mid-range jumper:
He slowed down offensively in the second half, and the Bucks chipped away at the Raptors' lead. However, Toronto started pulling away in part because of great hustle plays, one of which came via Lowry:
He did find his stroke at the right time, though, when he hit this back-breaking three:
For good measure, the 33-year-old also committed only one turnover and was clutch from the free-throw line (10-of-10) on a night where the Bucks struggled (17-of-26).
In closing, Lowry is a serious problem for Milwaukee right now.
Had the Raps not gone cold from the field, Lowry's 30 points on 10-of-15 shooting would have led them to a Game 1 victory. This time around, Toronto got hot around him, leading to an easy win.
The Bucks have home-court advantage, but if Lowry keeps this up, the Raptors may have the edge.
Bucks Must Shake Up Starting Lineup, Bench Bledsoe
Through four Eastern Conference Finals games, Bucks guard Eric Bledsoe has averaged 8.3 points on 24.4 percent shooting. He had more turnovers (five) than field goals (three) in Game 3 and hasn't made more than three shots in a game all series. Furthermore, Bledsoe has made just two of 19 three-pointers.
Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer and Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated explained Bledsoe's shooting struggles best:
No NBA player is immune to slumps, and Bledsoe played a significant part in the team's league-best 60-22 record with 15.9 points, 5.5 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game.
However, the Eastern Conference Finals is now a best-of-three series after Toronto took care of business at home. Milwaukee still has home-court advantage and will host Games 5 and 7 (the latter if necessary), but the Bucks don't have time to hope Bledsoe breaks out of his cold streak.
Milwaukee has a suitable alternative in George Hill, who dropped 24 points, seven rebounds and six assists in Game 3. Hill took over for Bledsoe down the stretch in that double-overtime loss, and he made an early re-entry in Game 4 when the starter hit the bench 3:17 into the third quarter.
His Tuesday effort wasn't as successful, although he attempted only two shots as most of his teammates scuffled through a bad loss.
Hill needs to start Game 5 regardless, if only to give Bledsoe a chance to relieve some pressure as he tries to round back into form. Tony Jones of The Athletic noted Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer has to make some hard calls:
Benching Bledsoe is a difficult decision, but it's the correct one. Hill must start Game 5 to help the Bucks wrest momentum back in this series.
The Bucks will host the Raptors for Game 5 on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET at Fiserv Forum. Toronto's win also forces a Game 6, which will take place in Toronto on Saturday at 8:30 p.m.