NBA: Rested Bucks overtake Raptors in opener

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(Reuters) — The Milwaukee Bucks had not played for seven days, and it showed early in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night.

The Bucks found their legs, though, just in time and rode a dominant fourth quarter to a 108-100 victory over the visiting Toronto Raptors.

Milwaukee outscored Toronto 32-17 in the final 12 minutes.

The Raptors needed a buzzer-beating shot for the ages from Kawhi Leonard in the seventh and deciding game on Sunday to get past the Philadelphia 76ers in their second-round playoff series.

Toronto carried that momentum into Wednesday. The Raptors led by as many as 13 points in the first quarter and still held a 100-98 edge with 3:31 remaining in the game.

“I think we always talk about our defense,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We start with it. I think the way that the guys competed and got after it defensively in the second half and particularly the fourth quarter just stands out to me.

“The depth, Malcolm (Brogdon) coming off the bench and playing the way he did and all the different guys we got contributing. Then obviously a big game from Brook (Lopez) on both ends of the court.

“We feel like we can get better. To get this win after pretty significant days without playing, I think hopefully we’ll be better between now and Game 2.”

Raptors coach Nick Nurse did not feel that the difficult 76ers series caught up with his team Wednesday.

“You can maybe think that, but we were right there,” he said. “We had some good looks down the stretch.”

Lopez scored a playoff-career-best 29 points and grabbed 11 rebounds while Giannis Antetokounmpo added 24 points and 14 rebounds for the Bucks, who host Game 2 on Friday.

“In a big moment, that was a great Brook Lopez tonight,” Budenholzer said.

Lopez said, “We just stayed with what we’ve been doing all during the playoffs. The shots weren’t dropping in early ... but we just kept grinding it out.”

Brogdon added 15 points off the bench for the Bucks, Nikola Mirotic scored 13 points, and Khris Middleton had 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Leonard led the Raptors with 31 points and grabbed nine rebounds. Kyle Lowry had 30 points, Pascal Siakam scored 15 points, and Marc Gasol had six points and 12 rebounds.

“We didn’t finish the game well,” Lowry said. “Our pace wasn’t good enough in the second half. I think we need to play with the pace we played with in the first place for the whole game.”

Lowry scored 14 of Toronto’s fourth-quarter points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field. The rest of the Raptors shot 0-for-15 in the fourth.

“We had open looks that we didn’t make,” Leonard said.

The Bucks scored the first eight points of the fourth quarter to lead by one.

They took a three-point advantage on Middleton’s 3-pointer with 7:50 remaining and were up by five on Brogdon’s running dunk with 6:33 to go.

The Raptors tied the game at 98 on Lowry’s 3-pointer with 4:02 to play. Leonard’s two free throws put Toronto ahead by two with 3:31 left.

The Bucks took a one-point lead on Middleton’s steal and Lopez’s dunk, and they led by four after a 3-pointer by Lopez with 1:55 left.

Eric Bledsoe made two free throws to bump the lead to six with 42 seconds to play, and Middleton’s two free throws made the advantage eight points.

The Raptors used a 16-0 run to take a 34-23 lead after one quarter.

Toronto had a 12-point lead during the second quarter before the Bucks battled back and pulled to within three on a Middleton step-back 17-footer that completed an 11-2 run.

Leonard capped the first-half scoring with a dunk, and Toronto led 59-51.

The Bucks opened the third quarter on an 8-2 run, drawing within two.

After the Bucks cut the margin to one, the Raptors went on a 9-0 surge capped by two free throws from Leonard with 6:33 left in the third.

Siakam ended the third period with a 3-pointer, giving Toronto an 83-76 lead. The Bucks were 0-for-11 on 3-point attempts in the quarter, and they wound up 11 of 44 from long range. The Raptors sank 15 of their 42 3-point tries.