There’s a long list of heroic playoff performances made by All-Stars turned role players later in their careers, and now, Brook Lopez has entered the chat.
Since his last season with the Brooklyn Nets in 2016-17, Lopez, 33, has reinvented himself damn near every season, and it’s been so long since he’s been that dude that people have forgotten his capabilities.
Last night, many figured it would have to be a Khris Middleton takeover in order for Milwaukee to overcome these fearless Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. Middleton held up his end, scoring 26 points on 10-for-20 shooting, along with 13 rebounds and eight assists. Jrue Holiday also added 26 points and 13 assists on 45 percent shooting. But, regardless of how Giannis Antetokoumnpo typically gets his numbers when active, he’ll usually wind up with something resembling a 30-15-6 spot. When he does, Milwaukee doesn’t always win, which tells you someone else needed to step up in his Game 5 absence, and then someone else after that.
Lopez had 33 points on 14-for-18 shooting, adding seven rebounds and four blocks, and he didn’t make one of his two three-point attempts. Old school Brook!
Lopez, not Deron Williams as expected, and not Joe Johnson as hoped, was the Nets’ lone All-Star after their big move to Brooklyn from New Jersey in the 2012-13 season. And then, that summer, they pulled off the infamous Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry trade. Lopez, who was limited to just five appearances two seasons prior, played 17 games in 2013-14 and again had a shortened season due to his foot. The idea of trading Lopez became more widely discussed, especially as he came off the bench for 28 of his 72 appearances the following season. And, when Brooklyn’s win-now experiment failed, and the Nets won just 21 games in 2015-16 and 20 games in 2016-17, where Jeremy Lin was arguably their most important player, Lopez got his usual 20 and 7, shooting around 50 percent from the field and 80 percent on free throws. It took Kenny Atkinson, his last Nets head coach who assumed the role in the spring of 2016, to get him to shoot threes, which Lopez embraced, perhaps a bit too much, at times.
Lopez went from 0.2 to 5.2 three-point attempts per game between his last two years in Brooklyn, but he had still taken about 16 shots per game. With the Lakers, whom he was traded to — along with the 27th overall pick in the 2017 Draft (which became Kyle Kuzma) in exchange for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov — he shouldered less of an offensive load. But even still, he attempted 4.4 threes per game ( making 35 percent) while dropping to 10.7 field-goal attempts. And in his three years in Milwaukee, more than half of his total shots (2,097) have come from three (1,118).
But with Giannis out, Lopez had to know those threes weren’t getting it done, so he went back to his roots. He bullied the shit out of Atlanta, blocking and or disrupting most drives into the lane, dunking on John Collins several times, and reminding us what a dominant All-Star level paint presence he was at his peak. His performance didn’t arrive without help, though.
Bobby Portis, one of the most underrated role players in the NBA, should’ve gotten more love in Sixth Man of the Year voting this season, produced even while being miscast in hellish stints with the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards, and New York Knicks.
For most players in the league, and for most people in life, it’s all about fit. It took years, but it appears that Portis, who will likely enter free agency after declining his $3.8 million player-option, has found his fit in Milwaukee. During the regular season, he averaged 11.4 points and 7.1 rebounds on 52 / 47 / 74 splits off the bench in just under 21 minutes per contest. His playing time’s been inconsistent in the postseason, but he’s been one of their most reliable players all season long. Last night, he recorded 22 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and three steals on 45 percent shooting. For the series, he’s at 12.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.2 steals per contest on 48 percent shooting. And, for his career, he’s good for 18.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per 36 minutes. Put respect on that dude’s name, too.