MILWAUKEE – Just over two minutes into the opening game of the Eastern Conference finals on Wednesday night, the Milwaukee Bucks are hovering at a point ahead of the Toronto Raptors. As Kawhi Leonard – himself a four-point miracle hitter in the seventh game against the Philadelphia 76ers a few days ago – controlled the ball at the top of the key, the crowd at Forum Fiserv chanted "De-fense " with as much effort as they could muster, trying to give their team a crucial stop. They realized their wish, with Leonard's three-point attempt to hit the panel and run at full speed.
Giannis Antetokounmpo seized the rebound and the enthusiasm of the crowd grew as they began to feel how close they were to a victorious victory. Lighting the throws after crossing the half-court, the Greek Freak entered the painting, took advantage of several defenders and sent a pass to Brook Lopez. In truth, it was not a good thing and the big man had to bend down completely to pull it off the ground. But he knew what he was going to do even before catching it, so there was no hesitation. He let it fly and picked it up at his place.
And when the Forum crowd broke out, Lopez turned to the half-court and hit his celebration, marking not only the end of what he was smoking, but also the game. The Raptors n & # 39; They scored more, while the Bucks earned a 108-100 win to take a 1-0 lead in the series. Lopez finished with a career-high 29-point playoffs, 11 rebounds and four blocks in which Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer agreed that it was the best match in the world. he saw Lopez playing.
"What stands out are the setbacks and the elements around the basket, especially in the first period," said Budenholzer. "We were a bit of a fight to score and anything offensively, and he was able to make one or two things, and of course, in the second half, the 3 in the gap that 's all right. he's giving us in. And then, in defense, we'll be looking at the tape, but I thought he was there a couple of times in the fourth quarter, making blocks, doing big competitions, bouncing in. Certainly, in a big moment , it was a big Brook Lopez tonight. "
The performance of the first match of Lopez was the culmination of a 10-month experience and validation of Budenholzer's grand plan. Lopez was a well-regarded signature in the offseason, but no one could predict how vital Lopez would become for the Bucks turnaround. The team revolves around Giannis, but nothing they do would work, or at least not at this point, without Lopez.
He extends the ground 30 feet off the offensive side and becomes one of the league's top firing men this season. This shot from the central position gives Giannis all sorts of workspace and enormous pressure on the opponents' defenses.
"When you place a spacing too far from the field, the defense unfolds, leaving more roads to drive," said Raptors goaltender Danny Green, one of the league's best perimeter defenders. "When someone hits, we have to overcompensate that person. [Lopez] came big for them. "
And at the other end of the board, the Bucks have chosen to concede mid-range jumps and pick-and-pop opportunities in favor of a Lopez drop in the paint. There, he protected the rim with great effect, and this is one of the main reasons why the Bucks led the league in defense looking for the arena during the regular season.
"We're really counting on Brook," said Khris Middleton. "He is our lowest anchor … Tonight he came in with big blocks, huge rebounds and effort games, we are really following his lead and he was great."
These two aspects of Lopez's game were exposed in the first match, and in the fourth quarter in particular. He scored three triples en route to scoring 13 points, four rebounds and two blocks in the final frame to help the Bucks win a crucial victory.
It was also fitting that Lopez's big night took place after a tough series against the Celtics. Although the season was easy in many respects for the Bucks, this is largely due to the fact that they have always reacted to all events and have never let themselves go. Even now, in mid-May, they have only lost one consecutive game once.
And just like his team, Lopez was ready with a rebound performance to start this series. He hit more shots (12) and scored more points (29) in the first game than in the five games against the Celtics combined, and almost blocked as many shots.
"I knew Brook was going to come at some point," said Eric Bledsoe, Bucks goaltender. "He played an incredible defense during all the playoffs, and for him to come off an offensive game like this is huge for us."
That was huge for the Bucks, and there is no chance that they will win this match if Lopez does not schedule the best match of his playoff career. After that kind of performance, a rare podium for him, Lopez had plenty of reason to boast, but the veteran did not want to be in the spotlight at all. Instead, he took the time, again and again, to praise the team as a whole, explaining why this group is so special.
"I've always tried to entertain myself when I go out to play basketball," Lopez said. "I obviously love to play the game. But there is no doubt that I've had a good time here. It's just a fun group, fun coaches, fun teammates, great teammates , an egotist – these are just the best people. "