Eastern Conference Finals Preview: Bucks vs Raptors
Source: Frank Gunn/CP
It’s been quite a few days if you're a Toronto Raptors fan, as most are still relishing the first ever Game 7 buzzer beater courtesy of Kahwi Leonard. Now it's back to business for the Dinos as they face their biggest challenge of the playoffs yet. It was expected that the Raptors road to the finals would have to make a stop to Milwaukee Wisconsin and that's where we are.
The Milwaukee Bucks took 3 of the 4 meetings against Toronto during this season. The Bucks handled the Raptors quite well this season. The Bucks have been able to score over 100 points in the three games an averaged over 118 points this versus Toronto. Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo has been unstoppable against Toronto, averaging an absurd 27 points and 12 boards. Giannis is not only scoring and grabbing boards against Toronto, but also adding around six dimes against the Dinos as will. He can practically do anything against Toronto so they'll have to hope Marc Gasol can make Gainnis' life uncomfortable. Easier said than done.
The rest of the Bucks starting lineup include Khris Middleton who made to his first all-star game this season. His defence isn't too shabby and has a knack for scoring and shooting the three, and has improved his 3pt percentage during these playoffs. He's become a viable second option scoring though Kawhi will have the advantage guarding him. Nikola Mirotic can also cause problems. He can shoot and score in the paint and is a big help on the boards, which could give the Raps the same problems they had in the Sixers series.
The Bucks also have Nikola Mirotic who has a chance to explode, Veteran Centre Brooks Lopez (Although he’s dropped off and won't be a huge factor in this series), their starting point guard Eric Bledsoe will be a thorn to Kyle Lowry on the defensive side. He played a major role in shutting down Kyrie Irving against Boston. Bledsoe plays gritty basketball and brings toughness, needless to say, the Raptors will have their hands full against a deep Bucks lineup.
Milwaukee's bench could also be the deciding factor in this series. In the playoffs, Milwaukee averages the third most points (37.4) per game. Toronto's bench didn't do much against the Sixers, nor against the Magic. Toronto will have to deal with George Hill who's averaging 10 points this season and had a good series against Boston. The final 3 games of the series against the Celtics, Hill scored 15 or more points. In his last 4 meetings against the Dinos’, he's averaging close to 12 points and shooting over 45 percent behind the arc. The Bucks bench also includes Ersan Ilyasova who has been quiet in the playoffs but had some success against the Raptors this season. In their first matchup, Ilyasova scored a season-high 19 points en route to a victory without their all-star Giannis. He shot an impressive 66 percent and shot 50 percent on threes. Ilyasova also recorded 10 boards which was also a season-high too.
Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon will start off the bench to begin the series, Nikola Mirotic takes the starting role. Brogdon coming off the bench will give the Bucks another shooting option. Brogdon is fully healthy and could be a nice weapon for the Bucks off the bench. He can shoot the three and when at the free throw line, which isn't often, he's around 90 percent. Nick Nurse will rely heavy on Kawhi and Kyle Lowry in this series with their second short-handed with OG Anunoby is still out. Expect most of the Raptors starters to be playing around 40 minutes a game, especially when the Raptors bench points differential is at weak minus 2.7.
Playoff Kawhi Leonard will have to make a bigger impact if they want to fend off the Bucks, and even though he has been sensational in these playoffs his shooting has been down the last few games. Although his 41 points are the most by a Raptor in a series-clinching game. So with that said Kawhi needs help. He can still pull out great performances but it's not going to be enough unless he gets help, not against this team.
Kyle Lowry and especially Danny Green need to produce. Green's lack of consistency with the three ball in these playoffs has dug a hole for the Raps at times, that can't happen if your Toronto. Pascal Siakam has been great against Milwaukee this season hitting over 24 points. He might have to shoot more than drive as he'll have Brooks Lopez, Mirotic and Giannis in the paint looking to swat the ball. Luckily Pascal isn't a bad mid-range shooter and will continue to improve. The best course of action for Toronto is to spread the ball and look for the open shooter, all while being aggressive and hopefully drawing some fouls along the way.
Kyle Lowry faces a tough matchup in Eric Bledsoe. He’s frustrated Lowry this season and has made Lowry almost non-existent in their matchups this year. Lowry’s shown what he’s capable of in game 7 against the Sixers. He played some great defense and got a few steals, he’s scrappy and is the type of player to put everything on the line. If he can draw fouls and played his gritty style it’ll be a huge boost to the Raps chances.
The Raptors will be in tough against Milwaukee and their chances don't look that good. Toronto at times this season didn’t look like the team that can contend with the Bucks. As great as this season has been for Toronto, I fear their playoff run will end. I hope they prove me wrong. Bucks in six games.