MILWAUKEE—The top two teams in the NBA, by regular-season record, hook up in a seven-game series to determine the Eastern Conference champion starting Wednesday night in Milwaukee.
The Bucks, 60-22 in the regular season, have not played for an NBA title since a six-game loss to Boston in 1974. The Raptors, 58-24, have never been further than a conference final, losing in six games to Cleveland in 2016.
Both teams like to play at a high tempo — not necessarily run-and-gun on every possession, but fast, and getting up shots early in the shot clock suits them both. Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo is a heavy favourite to be voted most valuable player, but he’ll be matched up at times with Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard, who has been the best player in the playoffs so far. That’s unquestionably the marquee matchup in the series, but it’s always secondary stars who have a large impact on outcomes.
Game 1: Wednesday @ Bucks, 8:30 p.m.
Game 2: Friday @ Bucks, 8:30 p.m.
Game 3: Sunday @ Raptors, 7 p.m.
Game 4: Tues. May 21 @ Raptors, 8:30 p.m.
Game 5: Thurs. May 23 @ Bucks, 8:30 p.m.*
Game 6: Sat. May 25 @ Raptors, 8:30 p.m.*
Game 7: Mon. May 27 @ Bucks 8:30 p.m.*
Here’s how the Raptors-Bucks series breaks down:
Milwaukee won the season series 3-1, but it shouldn’t have a huge bearing on the conference final. The last game between the teams was Jan. 31, before Toronto added Marc Gasol and Milwaukee augmented its roster by picking up George Hill and Nikola Mirotic at February’s trade deadline.
It’s the second time in three years that they have met in a playoff series; Toronto won in six games in 2016, winning Game 5 at home and closing out the series at the now-defunct BMO Bradley Centre.
Kyle Lowry: 12.4 ppg, 7.1 apg, 28.1 three-point field goal percentage, 2.5 free throw attempts per game
Danny Green: 8.4 ppg, 37.8 field-goal percentage, 36.5 three-point field-goal percentage, 5.3 three-point field-goal attempts per game
Kawhi Leonard: 31.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 53.9 field-goal percentage, 37.3 minutes per game
Pascal Siakam: 20.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 48.3 field-goal percentage, 35.8 minutes per game
Marc Gasol: 8.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 45.8 field-goal percentage, 31 minutes per game
Eric Bledsoe: 16 ppg, 4.3 apg, 2.4 turnovers per game, 27.9 three-point field goal percentage
Khris Middleton: 19.1 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.6 apg, 46.7 three-point field-goal percentage
Sterling Brown: 4.9 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 66.7 free-throw percentage, 18.9 minutes per game
Giannis Antetokounmpo: 27.4 ppg, 11.4 rpg, 4.4 apg, 52.2 field-goal percentage
Brook Lopez: 8.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 27.2 minutes per game, 27.9 three-point field-goal percentage
A handful of very intriguing matchups, anchored by Leonard-Antetokounmpo, but the veteran point guards Lowry and Bledsoe should be a good one, and secondary stars Siakam and Middleton are absolutely worth watching closely. Toronto’s starters were outstanding in the first two series and had to be, because of minimal production from the backups. The Raptors have been tied together on a defensive string and will have to continue that against a potent Bucks starting group. Milwaukee has surrounded Antetokounmpo with a bevy of shooters and could add former rookie of the year Malcolm Brogdon to the starting unit now that he’s back from a foot injury.
Raptors: Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, Norman Powell
Bucks: Malcolm Brogdon, George Hill, Pat Connaughton, Nikola Mirotic, Ersan Ilyasova
The bench has been a sore spot offensively for the Raptors for the duration of the playoffs, so much so that coach Nick Nurse went with a seven-man rotation in the last three halves of the Sixers series. They are going to have to find someone else to contribute — Norm Powell? Patrick McCaw? — as well as get better production from VanVleet and Ibaka. Milwaukee is like Toronto was a year ago — willing and able to play 10 men — and it’s lessened the load on the starters. But as the stakes get bigger, rotations tend to shrink and maybe Milwaukee cuts back on this obvious advantage.
Given that the Raptors had great interest in Mike Budenholzer and interviewed him before choosing Nurse over him, and that Budenholzer parlayed some of Toronto’s interest into a gig with the Bucks, there’s a bit of juice to the coaching matchups. There’s sure to be discussion about adjustments and adjustments to adjustments, and a microscopic examination of the decisions they make, but at the end of the day the players have to make plays.
There’s really not an awful lot to choose between the teams, and it’s fitting that the top two teams in the league are meeting for a chance to play for a title. It’s pretty easy to see the first four games ending in a 2-2 split somehow. After that, does the series turn into a homecourt affair like Toronto’s last one did? But if you get to a Game 7, all bets are off. So … a 3-3 tie and then, who knows?
Doug Smith is a sports reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @smithraps
Published at Wed, 15 May 2019 03:39:33 +0000