The No. 2 seed Toronto Raptors will take on the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, and Game 1 is set at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Wednesday night. The Bucks are strong -300 favorites to win the series and make it to the finals stage for the first time since 1974, while the Raptors are +240 underdogs to reach their first-ever NBA Finals. Milwaukee swept Detroit in the first round, and the Bucks surprisingly had an easy job in the semis, beating Boston in five games. On the other side, the Raptors outlasted Orlando 4-1 in the first round, while they barely overcame Philadelphia in the semifinal thanks to Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater in Game 7.
The Toronto Raptors (66-28; 43-50-1 AS) traded DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard this past summer, and the Claw is their key player this season. Kawhi is averaging 31.8 points per game this postseason along with 8.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists while making 53.9% of his field goals and 40.8% of his 3-pointers. The Claw tortured the 76ers in the previous round, tallying 34.7 points per contest on 54.0% shooting from the field. He dropped 45 points in Game 1 and 41 in Game 7 including the first Game 7 buzzer-beater in NBA history.
However, Kawhi will need more help from his teammates in the conference finals, as only Pascal Siakam and Kyle Lowry are averaging points in double figures this postseason. Siakam is tallying 20.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game while doing a great job at the defensive end, too. Lowry is posting 12.4 points, 7.1 assists, and 5.0 rebounds a night, and the Raptors’ fans expect way more from a five-time All-Star. Kyle is hitting just 28.1% of his 3-pointers and 41.5% of his field goals, so he’ll need to do a much better job against the Bucks who had the best defense in the league during the regular season.
The Raptors are scoring 103.6 points per game this postseason, making 45.4% of their field-goal attempts and 32.7% of their 3-pointers along with 22.3 assists and 11.8 turnovers. On the other side, the Raptors played terrific defense, allowing their rivals to score just 96.0 points per game on 41.3% shooting from the field and 31.5% from downtown. Still, the Raptors head-coach Nick Nurse expects a tough job against the Bucks. “It’s a totally different style than we’ve just been through in our past two series,” Nurse said. “These were set-play teams, pretty methodical on offense. They’re going to come down, look at things, run some post-ups, run stuff for their certain guys. That’s not to say Milwaukee doesn’t do that too, but they much rather spread the floor, give it to a guy, put their head down, take it to the rim, and put it in the rim. If you send help, they’re going to fire it out and they’re going to shoot a ton of threes.”
The Milwaukee Bucks (68-23; 55-32-4 ATS) thrashed off the Pistons in the first round of the playoffs, and they did a similar thing with the Celtics in the previous round. After losing the opening game of the Boston series at home, the Bucks have won four straight games by an average margin of 16.2 points. They were averaging 118.7 points per game over those four occasions while destroying the Celtics at the defensive end. The Bucks are scoring 116.9 points a night this postseason, making 46.8% of their field goals and 35.4% of their 3-pointers along with 25.6 assists and 13.1 turnovers. On the other side, they are surrendering 101.6 points per contest on 39.9% shooting from the field and 31.7% from beyond the arc.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.4 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 4.4 assists per game in the postseason, while the Greek Freak owned the Celtics in semifinals, tallying 28.4 points per outing on 53.4% shooting from the field. He impressed in Game 4, dropping 39 points on the Celtics while shooting 15-of-22 from the field. Khris Middleton was averaging 19.2 points per game against the Celtics on excellent 49.7% shooting from beyond the 3-point line. Eric Bledsoe is posting 16.0 points per contest this postseason, while George Hill was a huge factor in the semifinals, and his playoff experience is essential for this Milwaukee team. Hill was adding 17.3 points off the bench over the last three games against Boston. Malcolm Brogdon has returned from a heel injury, so the Bucks are healthy and fresh for the start of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Pick: Milwaukee Bucks -300
We’ll see the clash between two undoubtedly the best teams in the Eastern Conference and a couple of tremendous players – Kawhi Leonard and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Leonard will have a tall task against the Bucks’ defense that won’t hesitate to double team. The similar case will be with Antetokounmpo who dominated the Raptors in the regular season with 27.0 points and 15.3 rebounds per game while making 58.5% of his field goals. Hereof, the Raptors will have to double team Giannis, as Pascal Siakam struggled to cope with the Greek Freak during the regular season, allowing the Bucks superstar to shoot 64.7% from the field.
Many NBA experts including Steve Aschburner expect the Bucks to win this series in six or seven games, and I cannot argue with them. Both teams play some really tough defense, but the Bucks’ offense without Antetokounmpo looks much better than the Raptors’ offense without Kawhi. Also, the Bucks will have Malcolm Brogdon in the lineup, while their second unit is doing a great job this postseason which is not the case with the Raptors’ bench. The Bucks won the regular-season series 3-1, beating the Raptors both times at home along with a 105-92 victory in their last duel in Canada. I think the Bucks will outlast the Raptors, probably in six games, so another interesting wager is to pick the Bucks to win the series in six or fewer games at -120 odds.