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. 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.
If the Raptors provide the kind of lackadaisical performance that was on display against Orlando in Game 1, or in Philadelphia in Games 3 and Games 6 — all disappointing losses for Toronto — it’s hard to imagine their showdown with the NBA’s best team will last long. There’s a reason why the shortest series odds in Vegas sportsbooks are tacked to Milwaukee winning in five, and why Toronto comes into Game 1 as a six-point underdog. One magical Game 7 shot against the Sixers does not a championship contender make. Still, the Bucks are attempting to do something that hasn’t been achieved often — specifically, go from losing in the first round in one season to reaching the NBA final in the next.
The Raptors were lucky — four-bounce lucky — to escape a Game 7 against an equally-off Philadelphia 76ers offense. The luck stops here. Giannis is the MVP, Mike Budenholzer is the Coach of the Year, Milwaukee’s home-court advantage weights heavily and Malcom Brogdon, who this regular season became the eighth-ever member of the 50-40-90 club, swings a good series into a dominating one. Serge Ibaka was the quiet hero for Toronto last round, but against Milwaukee he and his teammates don’t have the benefit of an over-matched head coach, a hot-and-then-cold would-be star who can’t shoot, Joel Embiid’s myriad of illnesses and aches, nor an opponent that’ll lose its cool come crunch time. Milwaukee has been consistently great all season long, and that greatness continues here.
Bill Reiter, CBS Sports
The Bucks are way more balanced and deep. They have more shooting. They are better defensively. They are more versatile. They have the home-court advantage. They have Giannis Freaking Antetokounmpo. Even if Kawhi Leonard is the best player in the series, which I believe he is by a smidge, the Bucks are just too much.
Brad Botkin, CBS Sports
The Bucks are the better team. They have been all season. So why pick the Raptors? Stubbornness, I suppose, is at least part of it, since the Raptors are the team I picked at the beginning of the season and the beginning of the playoffs to win the East. This is a battle of perhaps the two most well-balanced teams in the NBA. During the regular season, the Bucks ranked fourth in offensive rating and first in defensive rating; the Raptors ranked fifth in offense and defense. The difference is that the Raptors have been pacing themselves for this moment since Day One. This was a team built for the playoffs more than the regular season. Their extra-cautious approach with Kawhi Leonard — he played only 60 games during the regular season — was all leading to this moment, where he hopefully has the energy left to go against the colossus that is Giannis and the Bucks. The Marc Gasol trade was made with the postseason in mind. The Raptors will certainly need a more consistent series from their non-Kawhi starters than they got against the Sixers. But they can pull off this upset.
Reid Forgrave, CBS Sports
Does experience on this stage matter? The Bucks have not shown any signs of the playoffs being too big a stage for them yet, but now the pressure mounts. Will it show?
The Raptors hope so.
The experienced Raptors — with Leonard, Gasol, Lowry — have players who have taken part in 116 Conference Finals games. They know what this level feels like, how to handle the pressure and execute.
The only Buck to go this far is George Hill, from his time with the Spurs and Pacers. That’s it. This is all new to Milwaukee.
The question is, will it matter?
The Bucks and Raptors benches have been trending in opposite directions. Milwaukee can turn to its second unit – led by Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill, Pat Connaughton and Brogdon – for long stretches. The Raptors, meanwhile, have received almost nothing from their reserves, which has forced them to play their starters heavy minutes throughout the playoffs. That fatigue could present a problem in the conference finals.
The Sporting News
When Game 1 of the conference finals tips off Wednesday, the Bucks will have had six days off, tying the longest break of any team in the 2019 postseason. Players and coaches spent the week doing a precarious tango: relax enough to be fresh for the next series, but don’t become too comfortable and risk losing their competitive edge.
The Bucks understand the pitfalls of trying to snap back to game speed after an extended break. After sweeping the Detroit Pistons in the first round, Milwaukee enjoyed five days of leisure. Then, in Game 1 against the Celtics, who were coming off a six-day break, Milwaukee suffered an embarrassing 22-point loss at home. The Bucks won the next four to eliminate the Celtics, but losing Game 1 at home could be a dangerous position against Toronto.
“Against Boston, you can go down 1-0 and still be fine,” Antetokounmpo said Tuesday. “But against Toronto it’s hard to be in that spot when you lose the first game at your home.”
Teams with at least six days off between series …
- are 32-18 (.640) in Game 1 of the following series over the past 20 postseasons.
- have won Game 1 of the following series eight of the past 10 times.
- are 31-19 (.620) in the following series over the past 20 postseasons.
- have lost three of the past four such series after winning six straight.
To give you an idea of how imposing Giannis has been, he’s played 165 fewer minutes than Leonard. Milwaukee has played in so many blowouts, it hasn’t needed Antetokounmpo as much as other teams have needed their stars. The Freak is still averaging a tidy 27/11/4 on 53% shooting, and he’ll have the freshest legs of any superstar headed into the third round.
The Bucks had the best record in the NBA during the regular season and now through the first two rounds have the best record in the postseason. Milwaukee has been so good on both sides of the court this season that it will probably take a lot more Kawhi Leonard magic for Toronto to pull off the upset in this series.
Milwaukee features an uncommon, almost lethal versatility. Apart from spacing, the Bucks are a team that doesn’t need any specific condition to succeed, not unlike the Golden State Warriors of recent seasons. They can win big or small, fast or slow, inside or outside, in the half court or the open floor, with scripted or improvisational play. Theoretically, the Raptors should be able to thrive in many of those environments as well, though they’ve demonstrated some vulnerabilities, particularly on the glass and in contending with size.
The Bucks will win the series if … Antetokounmpo continues to dominate while the players around him — Bledsoe, Middleton, Lopez, Mirotic, Brogdon — make their open shots. It’s been a winning formula all season.
The Raptors will win the series if … It’s not ONLY Kawhi Leonard carrying the load. That’s how it was in the Sixers series, but Toronto can’t win if Lowry, Gasol and/or Siakam don’t help enough.
PREDICTION: Milwaukee Bucks in six games.
NJ (New Jersey).com