Who Will Advance From Eastern Conference Finals?
The Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors face a duel in the Eastern Conference Finals with both looking end lengthy droughts without an appearance in the NBA Finals.
The Bucks have not appeared in the title game since 1974 when they were beaten by the Boston Celtics in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s second MVP season.
Milwaukee beat the Celtics 4-1 in the Semi-Finals to advance with relative ease. The Bucks needed to hold their composure after a defeat in game one.
Giannis Antetokounmpo put in four outstanding performances to guide his team to four wins on the bounce to seal their first appearance in the Conference Finals since 2001.
Mike Budenholzer’s men have been the class of the NBA this term, but they do not boast a great deal of experience in their ranks. It will take a complete effort to see off the Raptors.
Kawhi Leonard produced one of the greatest clutch moments in playoff history to see off the Philadelphia 76ers. With game seven of their series tied, he collected the ball on the right side of the court before throwing up a shot on the buzzer. The ball struck the rim three times before rolling into the net to send the home crowd in Toronto wild.
Leonard was the difference between the two sides and he has always risen to the occasion in the playoffs. It was why the Raptors made the move to acquire his services from the San Antonio Spurs.
Nick Nurse’s side will be leaning on his quality and big-game caliber to defeat the Bucks to advance to their first NBA Finals.
The Bucks were rocked by the Celtics in game one of the Semi-Finals as Kyrie Irving and company came out of the blocks firing. However, Milwaukee were able to establish control in game two and did not renege their stranglehold on the series from that point onwards. Budenholzer’s men were clinical on the court, finding the net at the key moments. The Bucks played as a unit compared to Boston, who were playing individual basketball.
The flow and rhythm of Milwaukee’s offense allowed them to keep the Celtics off balance. They were stringent in their defensive play, preventing Irving from notching the points to keep pace with Giannis. It was a complete effort from front-to-back, involving almost every player to get them over the line with ease. Milwaukee will need a similar effort against the Raptors, although Leonard is a step above Irving in quality.
Giannis’ ability was on full display during the series against the Celtics. Boston had no answer for him throughout the five game. When he went to the rim, he was able to dominate, using his size and power to notch two pointers – either that or he would draw fouls that would send him to the free-throw line.
When they packed the middle of the court Giannis sent the ball out to the flanks where George Hill, Pat Connaughton and Khris Middleton were there to offer support. The rest of the line-up will have to continue to come to the fore as those additional points will make the difference in a battle of the titans between Giannis and Leonard.
The Raptors were given another healthy reminder of why they sent DeMar DeRozan and a first-round pick to San Antonio to acquire Leonard. In the biggest moment of the series against the 76ers, Leonard came to the fore with a magical play. There was an element of fortune about the way it bounced down through the net, but he deserved it for his efforts on the court.
Leonard carried his team to victory in game seven, putting 41 points on the board. It was his second 40-point outing of the series – without the 27-year-old, the Raptors would surely be out of the playoffs by now. The difference between their previous trips to the playoffs and this year is down to the 2014 Finals MVP.
Leonard will have to take his game another level to match Giannis during the Eastern Conference Finals. He does have the benefit of experience over his rival in the contest. Leonard’s runs in the playoffs with the Spurs have primed him for the biggest moments. The 27-year-old rose to the occasion for San Antonio and he is doing it once again for the Raptors. Toronto have not reached the NBA Finals in their history and the weight of expectations will be placed on Leonard’s shoulders.
Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam have been inconsistent in their performances during the post-season. They have to be able to carry their weight in the series so Leonard is not fighting a one-man battle. The series could come down to which teams gets the most out of the support players on the court rather than their star men.
Head to Head
Games Played: 89 Milwaukee Bucks: 51 Toronto Raptors: 38
The Bucks won the series 3-1 between the two teams during the regular season. Both superstars were missing for the first contest, although the support players from Milwaukee were able to guide their side to a comfortable win on home court by 15 points.
Giannis and company did just enough to edge a close game in Toronto before the Raptors put forward a fine performance to dominate on the road, despite a 40-point from the Greek. A balanced effort from Milwaukee delivered a 13-point win in their final matchup in January. Will it be the same story in the post-season?
Although Leonard has proven to be a superstar on the court, the presence of Giannis should cancel out his brilliance. The two are arguably the best players remaining in the playoffs along with Steph Curry and Kevin Durant. The Eastern Conference Finals will be decided by which player receives the most support from his team-mates. As seen in the regular-season match-ups when each team was balanced they won the contest.
Milwaukee are rested for the series, having seen off the Celtics with ease so back them to come out firing on home court to take game one at odds of -260 with Bovada. It should be a close series, but one that the Bucks should be able to close out at -285 with BetOnline and by a 4-2 scoreline at odds of +450 with TopBet, advancing to their first appearance in the NBA Finals since 1974.
Milwaukee Bucks To Beat Toronto Raptors Game One Eastern Conference Finals
Wednesday 15th May 2019 20:15 EST (Thursday 16th May 2019 01:15 BST)
Milwaukee Bucks To Win Eastern Conference Finals
Milwaukee Bucks To Win Eastern Conference Finals 4-2
- Giannis Antetokounmpo
- Kawhi Leonard
- Milwaukee Bucks
- Toronto Raptors