The Toronto Raptors most certainly find themselves in a hole right now. And it’s not as if they have a lot of playoff success in their recent history to suggest they can rebound from it. With a 2-0 deficit in games, they’ll get to friendlier territory as they host the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals at 7:05 PM ET at the Scotiabank Arena.
Essentially the story of this series is that Toronto seems to be wishing and hoping that their two All-Stars can do all of the heavy lifting. When you take Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry out of the situation, the Raptors have been outscored by a whopping 60 points.
Naturally you have to give a lot of credit to the Bucks’ defensive scheme; they are, in fact, the #1-rated defensive club in the NBA, both in the regular season and now in these playoffs. But there are “hustle factors” here, like offensive rebounding, where the guys from the Great White North have nearly been doubled up. And that has to change.
In the NBA playoff odds that have been posted on Game 3, the Raptors are laying a small price:
Toronto Raptors -2 (-109)
Milwaukee Bucks +2 (-101)
Over 219.5 points (-105)
Under 219.5 points (-105)
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Raptors first-year coach Nick Nurse may have some personnel changes in the offing. Marc Gasol has not exactly been a marksman here; in fact, he made just one of nine shots in Game 2. And he may be riding the pines, at least at the start of this game, in favor of Serge Ibaka.
Is there any defense against Milwaukee’s bench? They combined for 54 points on Friday, and Ersan Ilyasova chalking up 17 points. And we don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but the presence of Malcolm Brogdon was once again felt. The former rookie of the year once again filled up the stat sheet, with 14 points, four rebounds and five assists, with a plus-minus figure of +15.
We’re not sure what to tell you about Toronto’s prospects for Game 3, other then that they’ll need to convert more three-pointers and force the Bucks to turn the ball over more. Milwaukee had a nifty 27-7 assist-turnover ratio, and you wonder how much better the Raptors are really going to shoot. After all, they were below 33% from beyond the arc in the playoffs coming into this series, and even though it’s been encouraging that Lowry has hit 50% of his triples (9 for 18), you just know he’s going to regress in that department.
Toronto may not suffer all that much on the stop end if Ibaka gets the bulk of the minutes at center (even though he is not the difference-maker he once was), but they would be missing his creativity in half-court settings on offense. Either way, somebody has to start grabbing some offensive rebounds; between those two guys, they only have three in the first two games.
The Bucks are doing some dominant things; eight of their ten wins in the playoffs have come by double digits, and in six of those wins the margin has exceeded 21 points. So the argument can be made that road team or not, they are superior coming in here.
But we know that Toronto is a capable squad; in other words, there isn’t quite the gap there is in the West series (Golden State vs.Portland). And there is also upside, in the respect that if all the guys except for Kawhi and Lowry actually start playing, they should look different.
Interestingly, over the last 14 seasons, teams that have come back home after going down 2-0 in a series have covered the first-half pointspread in Game 3 a sizzling 67% of the time. And that percentage is even higher in the last few years. So you know what? With the Raptors at -2.5 for the first half, that might not be a bad way to go.
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