The Milwaukee Bucks enter Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Toronto Raptors as a six point home favorite. The Bucks haven’t played since last Wednesday when they throttled the Boston Celtics in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semis. Now, they have to avoid a slow start due to week-long layoff.
Meanwhile, the Raptors needed a final shot at the buzzer in Game 7 to get rid of the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night. They have a much quicker turnaround. Kawhi Leonard has been a shining star for the Raptors. How will he respond after the game-winning shot? We just saw the Portland Trail Blazers slog through Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. The Raptors are in the same boat with an extra day of rest.
The Bucks have gone (8-1) in their nine playoff games this year. Their only loss came in Game 1 against the Celtics. They swept the Detroit Pistons in the first-round. Therefore, the Bucks have not really been tested in the postseason. The reason is they are that good. Furthermore, the Bucks have been in playoff battles in previous seasons. This run is looking like the payoff.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has been a dominant force this postseason. He is averaging 27.4 points, 11.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists in the playoffs. Antetokounmpo is also shooting 52 percent from the field. He has taken more 3-pointers. As a result, he is hitting over one 3-pointer per game in the postseason. Yet, the Raptors would not mind if Antetokounmpo relied on the jump shot more often in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In all, the Bucks have five double digit scorers coming into the series. Malcolm Brogdon returned for one game in the Boston series. He should have enough work to become a factor in Game 1. However, the Bucks have gotten plenty of production throughout the lineup. Khris Middleton is scoring 19 points per game in the postseason. He is shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range in nine playoff games. Eric Bledsoe is chipping in with 16 points per game. More importantly, the Bucks Big 3 are leading the team in assists with over 4 dimes apiece. As a result, keep an eye out for the passing game against the stout Raptors’ defense.
The Raptors are (8-4) in 12 playoff games. They’ve been to the Eastern Conference Finals before. However, this run seems different with Leonard in the lineup. He is the most prolific scorer in the series at 31.8 points per game in the postseason. Leonard is also a lockdown defender. Therefore, we may see him guard Antetokounmpo from the outset. However, I expect to see Pascal Siakam get the first crack at the Bucks’ star.
This move may give Siakam some confidence entering the Eastern Conference Finals. He is second on the team with 20.8 points per game in the playoffs. Although Siakam made a critical layup in Game 7 on Sunday, he was not a factor on the offensive side of the ball. Will he succumb to the pressure if the series becomes tight again? Keep in mind, Kyle Lowry is the only other double digit scorer at 12.4 points per game.
The Raptors have three more players averaging over eight points per game. The Combination of Danny Green, Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol have had big nights during the playoffs. However, they’ve been more of a factor on the defensive side of the ball throughout. For example, Green only scored two points in the Game 7 clincher. Meanwhile, Ibaka came off the bench to score 17 points. You never know who is going to complement Leonard’s scoring. However, you expect somebody to come up big most games.
X-factor for Game 1: Will Kyle Lowry be able to hit open 3-point shots? He is only hitting 28 percent of his long range shots. Repeatedly, Lowry has been unable to punish the defense for sagging off into the paint. Now is the time for him to get out of his shooting slump. We must not that Lowry has made plenty of big plays in other facets of the game. Still, the Bucks will exploit Lowry’s weakness if he continues to be a liability from three.
Prediction: Milwaukee 105 – Toronto 100