MILWAUKEE • The Milwaukee Bucks had not played for seven days, and it showed early in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night.
The top-seeded team in the National Basketball Association found their legs, though, just in time and rode a dominant fourth quarter to a 108-100 victory over the Toronto Raptors, outscoring the visitors 32-17 in the final 12 minutes.
While their second-seeded opponents needed a buzzer-beater for the ages from Kawhi Leonard in Game 7 on Sunday to get past the Philadelphia 76ers in their Eastern semi-final play-off series, Toronto appeared to be riding the crest of that victory as they led by as many as 13 points in the first quarter.
The Raptors even held a 100-98 edge with 3min 31sec left in the game, but ultimately, the hosts were able to grind out the win, with Brook Lopez sparking a run of 10 unanswered points in the remaining period.
Hailing the "complete team effort", the Bucks centre, who paced his team with 29 points and had 11 rebounds, said: "We'd been playing with good energy the whole game, but shots weren't going down for us. So we knew we just had to keep grinding, which is what we've been doing all season long."
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer also talked up his team's defence, adding: "We start with it. 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.
"He was out there making big-time plays - blocks, rebounds, contests. Certainly in a big moment, that was a great Brook tonight.
"We feel like we can get better. To get this win after pretty significant days without playing, hopefully, we'll be better between now and Game 2."
While the Raptors can take positives from another big contribution from All-Star forward Leonard, who had a game-high 31 points, his teammates were left to rue their sloppiness, particularly in the fourth quarter when they were outscored by 15 points.
Admitting the Bucks "killed us" late on, All-Star guard Kyle Lowry, who poured in 30 points, said: "They outplayed us. They were a little bit more aggressive. Made some big shots, made some big plays.
"It sucks to lose like that. But we had our chance and we've got to learn from it. We need to play with the pace we played with in the first place for the whole game."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS