While the Bucks were the only team to reach 60 wins, the Raptors weren’t far behind with 58 of their own. The two teams have without a doubt the top two players in the East right now, and this series might shed some light as to whether Kawhi Leonard or Giannis Antetokounmpo is the top dog in the conference. This is likely to be a tightly contested series that goes six or seven games, so what does each team need to do to make it to the NBA Finals?
The Bucks are the only team in the NBA that the Raptors do not own home court advantage against. Thus, for them to win this series they’ll need to win on the road at least once. This was no problem for the team in the first round, however they struggled on the road against Philly going just 1-2. Their single road win was only by 5 points, and they lost by 21 points and 11 in their other two road games. The Raptors did however go 1-1 on the road against the Bucks during the regular season.
Evidently, everything on both ends of the floor starts with Kawhi Leonard for Toronto. He averaged nearly 35 points per game in the second round and on solid efficiency to boot. Despite the lack of support he got from his teammates, he managed to carry the team to a series victory following an iconic buzzer beater over Joel Embiid. While the Raptors are incredible defensively one through five, with another excellent defender in Serge Ibaka off the bench, they’ll need to pick things up offensively to win against Milwaukee.
The Rest of the Raptors
Despite sub 40% shooting from the floor and sub 30% shooting from three, Kyle Lowry was actually solid against Philly. He did all the little things for the team, especially in game seven when he stepped up for some clutch offensive rebounds and sacrificed his body for charges throughout the series. For Toronto to win however, he’ll need to knock down his shots at a better clip, while also continuing everything else he’s done.
Pascal Siakam, who shot just 44.1% from the field and 27.3% from deep also needs to step up his game. While he averaged almost 20 points per game, he’ll need to be far more efficient to lessen the offensive load on Kawhi. Additionally, look for Marc Gasol to have a larger impact on offense. His main matchup, Brook Lopez, tends to play on the perimeter, rather than bang down low like Joel Embiid did in the previous round. With a lighter defensive match up, Gasol should have more energy to put the ball in the basket. Also look for Serge Ibaka, who had a massive game seven on both ends of the floor to play significant minutes and provide a boost off of Toronto’s otherwise weak bench.
The Bucks absolutely crushed the Celtics in the previous round, and despite dropping game one at home, they’re currently rolling with four straight wins. Other than a shaky game one, the Greek Freak was generally unstoppable, and Milwaukee won big the majority of the time. Khris Middleton had a solid all-around stat line with 19.2 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists. While he shot a ridiculous 47.2% from deep, he had just a 39.5% field goal percentage. Middleton needs to cut out any inefficient shots to help his team advance to the Finals.
Most importantly for the Bucks, they’ll have starting two-guard Malcolm Brogdon back in the lineup. Brogdon’s ability to stroke it from deep and finish at the rim will open up the floor for the entire team. His return should greatly benefit Eric Bledsoe and Brook Lopez, who each shot poorly in the second round. During the regular season, the Bucks’ starting five was a well oiled machine. With all five starters back in place, the Bucks’ shooting percentages should go up, which is key against an elite defensive team like Toronto.
Both teams are excellent on both ends of the floor, however Milwaukee has had much smoother sailing throughout these playoffs as compared to Toronto. This series will come down to who shows up the most out of the supporting cast. Barring a complete collapse from either player, Antetokounmpo and Leonard are likely to be excellent. While the Bucks have the better offense, if Toronto plays to their potential, they can compete with them on offense, and their defense is most certainly stronger. Where the Bucks outmatch the Raptors, however is their bench. With Brogdon’s return, Nikola Mirotic will return to the second unit and bolster a solid bench squad that includes George Hill, Pat Connaghton and Ersan Ilyasova. Given that the Bucks have the deeper team superior offense, they’ll likely win out in six or seven.
Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference
Featured image courtesy of Rick Madonik/Toronto Star File Photo
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