MILWAUKEE — Bucks fans waited through 18 years of mediocrity, an ownership change, the construction of a new arena, and the successful discovery of an all-time diamond in the rough player to get to Game 1 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals. The Toronto Raptors and their impossibly loyal fanbase waited what seemed like just as long for LeBron James to exit the East so they could finally have a reasonable shot to make an NBA Finals, this time with a transcendent star of their own.
At one point in the second half, the Bucks looked like they wouldn’t make a three again for that long either. Then, Brook Lopez, the totem of transformation this Milwaukee team has undergone, hit back-to-back threes midway through the fourth quarter, blowing the lid off the arena and bringing the Bucks within one at 83-82. Kyle Lowry, who shrugged off his playoff malaise to put up 30, responded with momentous shot after momentous shot late.
On a night where the Bucks finished an absurd 11-44 from range, down to just 17.1 percent at one point, the biggest shot of the game came from beyond the arc. Lopez splashed from above the break with 1:55 left to make it 104-100, pushing the lead and putting a fitting exclamation mark on this historic Milwaukee season — and this history transformation.
A raucous Brew City crowd showed up to the brand-new Fiserv Forum, as did Toronto’s role players and everyone on Nick Nurse’s squad must have carried their jumper onto the flight because they all arrived Wednesday night, at least early on. The Bucks kept shooting, turned up the defensive intensity and completed a 108-100 comeback win.
Game 1 showed us no matter who goes on to win this series, this version of each team isn’t the one that failed so many times before. They’ve undergone a metamorphosis into the best versions of themselves, built around an incandescent superstar.
Milwaukee got 29 points from Brook Lopez, a record-setting three-point shooter for his size, and another 15 from Malcolm Brogdon off the bench. They’ve successfully put together pieces that fit around Giannis Antetokounmpo. Lowry came through where he’d failed in the past and the role players made shots where they missed against Philly.
This was the game these two squads are capable of providing, heavyweight teams trading counterpunches. For 45-plus minutes, the Raptors battled every Milwaukee run. A Kawhi Leonard steal would turn into a layup, Lowry would hit a three and all of a sudden, a lead the Bucks had trimmed to three was back to 10.