How they got here
The Bucks: Milwaukee had high hopes coming into this season, and they did not disappoint. Following the hiring of Mike Budenholzer as head coach, the new look Bucks cruised towards an NBA best 60 wins during the regular season, earning them the number one seed in the East. The Bucks continued their impressive play during the post-season, sweeping the short-handed Pistons in the opening round before dispatching the Celtics in five games during the semi-finals.
Giannis Antetokounmpo has predictably been the do it all man for the Bucks in the post-season, leading the team in both scoring and rebounding at 27.4 points per game and 11.2 rebounds per game respectively. However, a huge part of the Bucks success thus far has been their balanced attack. Milwaukee currently has four different players averaging in double figures in Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, and George Hill. The addition of Brogdon, who returned in game five to help the Bucks close out the Celtics after recovering from a plantar fascia tear, has added yet another dangerous weapon to the Bucks arsenal.
Raptors- The Raptors have grown accustomed to disappointing performances during the playoffs, and it seemed the team was destined for playoff exits against LeBron year after year. However, with LeBron going West and the blockbuster addition of Kawhi Leonard, things feel different in Toronto. Leonard has been arguably the NBA’s most impressive performer thus far through the playoffs, averaging 31.8 points per game, 8.5 rebounds per game, boasting a player efficiency rating of 30.58, along with playing lockdown defense throughout the playoffs. Leonard has combined with rising star Pascal Siakam to form one of the best two-way duos in the league and has Toronto poised for years of success if they can keep this core together.
Following a disappointing opening game loss to Orlando, Toronto went on to defeat the Magic in four consecutive tries setting themselves up for a showdown with the Philadelphia 76ers, a team you can make an argument for being the most talented team on paper in the eastern conference. The Raptors would go on to win a hard fought seven game series, and Leonard’s late-game heroics helped to seal the deal and punch Toronto’s ticket to the eastern conference finals.
Keys to victory
Bucks- One of the big keys to success for Milwaukee will be how effective Antetokounmpo will be for the Bucks. Antetokounmpo has proven to be nearly unstoppable so far in the playoffs, but the Raptors have two elite defenders in Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam to throw at him on the defensive end that could limit his effectiveness. The health of Malcom Brodgon will also be a key factor in this series, as no one truly knows what to expect from him. Brogdon was one of Milwaukee’s most effective weapons all season long averaging 15.6 points per game including knocking down over 42% of his attempts from behind the arc and a healthy Brogdon could give Milwaukee a much-needed edge in this series.
Raptors- One of the main question marks in this series will be whether the defensive duo of Leonard and Siakam can slow down Antetokounmbo, something no one has been able to do so far. However, slowing down Antetokounmbo is just one piece of the puzzle to stopping Milwaukee, as their balanced scoring approach has made them extremely dangerous. One of the main areas Toronto will need to focus on is stopping the Bucks 3-point shooting, where their 38 attempts per game rank second in the playoffs behind only the Houston Rockets. The Bucks have two different players in George Hill and Khris Middleton shooting over 40% from three during the playoffs and limiting their effectiveness from behind the arc will be crucial. And lastly, the Raptors will need Leonard to be the best player on the floor at all times. The match-up between Leonard and Antetokounmbo is must-watch television, and the winner between that match-up might go a long way to deciding the winner of the series.
Bucks in seven. I think these are two very evenly matched teams, but ultimately the balance behind Antetokounmbo will be too much for Toronto to handle. Milwaukee has been the best team in the NBA all season long, and I don’t think we’ll see their season end just yet.