The tone was set.
And it never changed.
The Eastern Conference doesn’t belong to Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks — yet. But they’re two wins away, after Antetokounmpo had 30 points and 17 rebounds, Ersan Ilyasova came off the bench to add 17 points and the Bucks never trailed on the way to a 125-103 victory over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night and a 2-0 lead in the East finals.
“He plays so hard, he lays it all on the line, every time,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “It was a great start for us. I think everybody fed off of Giannis and how he started the game.”
How he finished, too.
Antetokounmpo scored 11 points in the fourth for the Bucks, who wound up with six players in double figures — three of them reserves. Nikola Mirotic scored 15, Malcolm Brogdon had 14, George Hill 13 and Khris Middleton 12.
“We really rely on each other … especially the bench,” Ilyasova said. “The starting five set the tone.”
Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points for Toronto, which gave up the game’s first nine points, never led and trailed by double digits for the final 39 minutes. Kyle Lowry scored 15 and Norman Powell had 14 for the Raptors.
“We didn’t do much well tonight, obviously,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said.
Game 3 is Sunday in Toronto.
“We get to go back home and protect our home court, like they did these last two games,” Lowry said. “We’ve got a chance to go home, protect home court and do what we’re supposed to do.”
Milwaukee, an NBA-best 60-22 record during the regular season, became the 16th team to start a postseason with at least 10 victories in its first 11 games. Only three teams — the 1989 Los Angeles Lakers, the 2001 Lakers and the 2017 Golden State Warriors — opened the playoffs 11-0.
The Bucks led by as many as 28, before Toronto did just enough chipping away to keep some semblance of hope.
Eventually, Antetokounmpo decided enough was enough.
With 5:51 left to play Antetokounmpo backed Leonard down on the block, spun back toward the center of the lane, scored while getting hit and starting a three-point play. He yelled to the crowd and punched the air. The knockout blow was landed, and the Bucks are two wins from their first NBA Finals berth in 45 years.
“At times, I forget that I have to stay aggressive,” Antetokounmpo said.
Not in that moment, he didn’t.
Aggression wasn’t an issue for the Bucks at any point.
Milwaukee’s lead was 35-21 after the first, 64-39 at the half. It was the first time Toronto had been outscored by 10 or more points in each of a game’s first two quarters since May 25, 2016, against Cleveland and the 25-point halftime hole was, by far, the Raptors’ worst of the season. They trailed Houston 55-37 on March 5.
“The beginning kind of set us in a real bad spot,” Gasol said. “We couldn’t get a grip of the game early on.”
Toronto was down 21 when Lowry got his third foul with 1:27 left until the break. The Raptors left Lowry in; he wound up getting his fourth foul while battling Mirotic for a rebound 24 seconds later and let the referees have an earful as he headed to the bench. Another roll of the dice didn’t pay off, either: Raptors forward Pascal Siakam got his fourth shortly after halftime, then got his fifth with 9:26 left in the third.
“Give them credit,” Siakam said. “They came with a lot of intensity.”
Antetokounmpo started the second half with a three-point play, pushing the lead to 28.
That’s when Toronto found a bit of a groove.
The Raptors outscored Milwaukee 31-16 over the next nine minutes, getting within 83-70 on a 3-pointer by Fred VanVleet. But a quick flurry by the Bucks restored order — Brogdon rebounded his own miss and scored, then set up George Hill for a score in transition, and Hill scored again off a Raptors turnover a few seconds later.
Just like that, the lead was back up to 19, and it was 95-78 going into the fourth.
“We came out, had a couple defensive stops that led to some transition baskets,” Hill said. “And we ran from there.”
Raptors: The 14-point deficit after one quarter was Toronto’s second-largest of the season, with a 38-19 opening quarter at San Antonio — Leonard’s return there— on Jan. 3 the only one that saw them down by more. … Lowry became the second player in these playoffs with four fouls by halftime. Detroit’s Bruce Brown did it April 22, also against the Bucks. … The Raptors are 0-63 all-time when trailing by 20 or more at the half.
Bucks: Milwaukee had a big rebounding edge for the second straight game — 60-46 in Game 1, 53-40 in Game 2. … It was Milwaukee’s 70th win of the season, tying the 1973-74 Bucks for the second-most in franchise history. The 1970-71 Bucks won 78. … Ilyasova’s 15 first-half points matched a season high. … Milwaukee has won its last six playoff games, tying a franchise record. … The Bucks are 50-13 vs. the East this season.
The Bucks have never lost a series when leading 2-0; they’ve been in this spot 13 previous times. Toronto has never overcome a 2-0 series deficit in seven previous attempts.
This series has plenty of NBA individual award finalists, revealed Friday. Antetokounmpo is a finalist for MVP and Defensive Player of the Year; Budenholzer is a finalist for Coach of the Year and Siakam is a Most Improved Player finalist. Antetokounmpo will be Milwaukee’s highest finisher in the MVP race since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won in 1974.
Game 3 is Sunday in Toronto.