With both the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks taking care of business in the second round of the playoffs, the Eastern Conference Finals is now set.
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Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals will take place in Milwaukee on Thursday, May 16. The broadcast schedule for the series has not yet been released.
- Game 1 - Thursday, May 16 at Milwaukee
- Game 2 - Saturday, May 18 at Milwaukee
- Game 3 - Monday, May 20 at Toronto
- Game 4 - Wednesday, May 22 at Toronto
- Game 5 (if necessary) - Friday, May 24 at Milwaukee
- Game 6 (if necessary) - Sunday, May 26 at Toronto
- Game 7 (if necessary) - Tuesday, May 28 at Milwaukee
Recapping the Season Series
Result: Bucks won 3-1
Best game: Jan. 5, 2019 - Raptors 123, Bucks 116
Best performance: Giannis Antetokounmpo (Jan. 5, 2019) - 43 points (16-25 FG), 18 rebounds, four assists and one steal
The first meeting between the Raptors and Bucks this season came early when both teams were a perfect 6-0. Giannis Antetokounmpo (concussion) and Kawhi Leonard (rest) missed the game, and Milwaukee cruised to a 124-109 win behind a balanced effort that saw seven players score in double figures.
Serge Ibaka led the Raptors in scoring that night with 30 points and Pascal Siakam chipped in with 22 points.
The second meeting was much closer but the end result was the same. Behind a 19-point, 19-rebound double-double from Antetokounmpo, the Bucks defeated the Raptors in Toronto, 104-99.
Kyle Lowry struggled in the loss, going scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting from the field.
The Raptors picked up their lone win against the Bucks on Jan. 5 in what turned out to be the best game between the two teams this season. Leonard and Siakam led the Raptors in scoring with 30 points each, but they got a scoring punch out of Ibaka (25), Danny Green (12) and Fred VanVleet (21), the latter of whom started in place of Lowry, who was dealing with a back injury.
The five of them helped Toronto overcome 43 points, 18 rebounds and four assists from Antetokounmpo to beat the Bucks, 123-116.
The Bucks got some revenge in the final game of the season, winning by a final score of 105-92 at the Scotiabank Arena. It was a team effort once again, as seven players scored in double figures, including D.J. Wilson (16) and George Hill (10) off the bench.
Key Storyline: Can the Raptors contain Giannis Antetokounmpo?
The Raptors will have their hands full trying to slow down Antetokounmpo, who is averaging 27.4 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game in these playoffs.
The Bucks have built a team around Antetokounmpo that plays perfectly to his strengths, surrounding him with shooters to give him the space he needs to attack the paint, where he led the league in scoring this season.
Antetokounmpo is a matchup nightmare for every team because he's too big and strong for perimeter players to guard and too quick and athletic for big men to stay in front of.
Double-teaming him is risky as well. Not only is Antetokounmpo a capable passer, the Bucks made and attempted the second-most 3-pointers in the league this season, trailing only the Houston Rockets. Every player on Milwaukee's roster is comfortable shooting 3-pointers, even Brook Lopez, who set the record for 3s made by a centre during the regular season.
So who on the Raptors will take on the responsibility of defending Antetokounmpo? According to NBA.com, Siakam matched up with the MVP candidate the most this season, followed by Leonard, Ibaka and OG Anunoby.
Here's what Antetokounmpo did in each of those matchups:
This is another series where the Raptors will miss Anunoby if he's unable to play. While he wouldn't be the primary defender on Antetokounmpo, Toronto would benefit greatly from having another wing who can match up with him physically, especially now that Siakam is dealing with an injury.
According to Blake Murphy of The Athletic, Anunoby is now travelling with the Raptors for the first time since undergoing an emergency appendectomy, but there's still no update on when he is expected to return.
Three Players to Watch
vs. Milwaukee in 2018-19 (three games): 22.0 points (42.6 FG%, 30.0 3P%, 81.0 FT%), 7.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists
The Bucks did a better job defending Leonard this season than most teams, limiting him to 22.0 points per game on 42.6 percent shooting from the field.
Leonard was fantastic in Toronto's lone win with a team-high 30 points, but he scored a total of 36 points in the two other contests he appeared in.
Khris Middleton was the primary reason Leonard didn't play to his usual standard. According to NBA.com, he limited the three-time All-Star to 36 points on 11-for-27 shooting from the field over three games.
Aaron Gordon has similar success against Leonard based on the matchup data, but Leonard torched both him and the Magic in the first round to the tune of 27.8 points per game. Will Leonard be able to do the same against a Bucks team that had the best defensive rating in the league this season?
vs. Toronto in 2018-19 (three games): 14.0 points (47.6 FG%, 42.9 3P%, 63.6 FT%), 6.5 assists, 5.3 rebounds
The Bucks will need Middleton to be a star on both ends of the court against the Raptors. In addition to having to defend Leonard, who is in the midst of the best playoff run of his career, they'll need him to be their secondary playmaker.
He was just that against the Pistons in the first round and the Celtics in the second round, posting 19.1 points and 4.6 assists per game.
While Middleton failed to score 20 points in any of the Bucks' four meetings with the Raptors, his impact was clearly felt in other aspects of the game, like defence and playmaking. Two of Middleton's three best games as a facilitator came against Toronto as he dished out nine assists in a Jan. 5 loss and eight assists in a win on Oct. 29.
The regular seasons suggests that Middleton doesn't necessarily need to be a scorer to help the Bucks advance past the Raptors, but his playmaking abilities can go a long way.
vs. Milwaukee in 2018-19 (two games): 21.5 points (48.4 FG%, 50.0 3P%, 71.4 FT%), 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists
Gasol is a big reason why the Raptors are in the Eastern Conference Finals, but this could be a tough series for him.
Whereas Nikola Vucevic and Joel Embiid are both back to the basket centres, which better plays to his strengths as a defender, Lopez does most of his scoring from the 3-point line. He attempted 6.3 3-pointers per game this season and shot 36.5 percent from that distance.
Lopez hasn't shot well through two rounds of these playoffs, but having him on the floor will force Gasol to cover far more ground than he did against the Magic and 76ers.
Unless the Raptors can find a better matchup for Gasol - perhaps Antetokounmpo, as it would allow him to stay closer to the paint - Ibaka might Toronto's go-to centre in this series.
Picks and Predictions
Micah Adams: Raptors in six
Carlan Gay: Bucks in six
Kyle Irving: Bucks in six
Gilbert McGregor: Raptors in seven
Alex Novick: Bucks in seven
Scott Rafferty: Raptors in seven