Last Updated: 2019-05-15
The No. 2 seed Toronto Raptors will face off against the No. 1 seed Milwaukee Bucks in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee Wednesday night. The Bucks are considered as strong favorites in this series after some excellent displays during the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs, but the Raptors will try their best to upset the odds and win at least one of the first two games in Milwaukee. The Bucks have won the regular-season series 3-1, and the Raptors’ only victory has come on the road.
Toronto will miss OG Anunoby (appendectomy) who will almost certainly stay sidelined for the rest of the series. Milwaukee will be without Pau Gasol (ankle), but veteran center played in just three games for the Bucks this season.
The Bucks opened as 6-point favorites with the total at 217.0 points and the Raptors at +215 money line odds. Milwaukee is 8-1 straight up and ATS this postseason and 12-4 straight up and 10-5-1 ATS in its last 16 outings at home. Toronto is 8-4 straight up and 6-6 ATS in its 12 contests in the postseason and 6-5 ATS in its previous 11 showings on the road as a dog.
What’s at Stake?
The Raptors have nothing to lose here, but they can win a lot with an eventual upset. However, the Bucks lost the opening game of the Celtics series and won the next four contests to easily reach the conference finals.
While Bucks finished their job in the semis in five games that gave them some extra days off, the Raptors had to play seven games against the 76ers. Toronto won game 7 with Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater which could be a huge boost for their confidence, but they can also struggle with fatigue. On the other side, the Bucks are on a four-game winnings streak and ready to continue with their impressive performance.
As I’ve mentioned, the Bucks outlasted the Raptors in three of their four meetings in the regular season, and Giannis Antetokounmpo dominated the Raptors in his three appearances. The Greek Freak averaged 27.0 points, 15.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists while making 58.5% of his field goals, and the Raptors just couldn’t find the way to slow him down. When Pascal Siakam was guarding him, Antetokounmpo shot 64.7% from the field, and Siakam is arguably the Raptors’ best defensive stopper at the low post.
Giannis will attack the rim for most of the time, and if the Raptors repeat the Celtics’ mistake to respect his jump shot, it will leave a lot of space for open 3-pointers which is exactly what the Bucks want. Khris Middleton is averaging 19.1 points a night this postseason, making 46.7% of his 3-pointers, while he shot 42.9% from downtown in four apps against the Raptors in the regular season. Nikola Mirotic, Ersan Ilyasova, Brook Lopez, Pat Connaughton, and George Hill all can shoot well from beyond the arc, so the Raptors will be in big trouble. The Bucks are hitting 35.4% of their 3-point attempts, while they can count on Malcolm Brogdon who’s recovered from a heel injury, and he shot 42.6% from downtown in the regular season.
On the other side, Kawhi Leonard will drive the Raptors’ offense. The Claw was magnificent over the previous 12 playoff contests, tallying 31.8 points and 8.5 rebounds per game while shooting 53.9% from the field and 40.8% from beyond the arc. Kawhi dropped 41 points on the Sixers in Game 7 on 16-of-39 shooting, but the Raptors will need more from other guys if they want to beat the Bucks on the road. Pascal Siakam is averaging 20.8 points per contest, while Kyle Lowry is a huge disappointment with just 12.4 points per game on 41.5% shooting from the field and only 28.1% from deep.
The Raptors are doing a great job at the defensive end, allowing just 96.0 points per game, but they have to improve offensively against the Bucks’ defense that was the best in the league in the regular season (105.2 points allowed per 100 possessions). The Bucks are surrendering just 99.0 points per 100 possessions in the postseason on 39.9% shooting from the field which tells you a lot about their defensive efficiency.
The Raptors possess more playoff experience, but the Bucks are looking unstoppable at the moment. Milwaukee has more offensive weapons than Toronto, especially off the bench, and with Malcolm Brogdon back in action, the Bucks certainly have more players who can make a difference. I think the Bucks will grab a victory in Game 1, and I’m backing them to cover the spread along the way. Milwaukee is 4-1 straight up and ATS in its last five meetings with Toronto and 7-1 straight up and 6-2 ATS in its last eight playoff contests at home, while the Raptors are 6-14 straight up and ATS in their previous 20 outings on the road in the postseason.
I would also take the under on this one, considering the defensive potential on both sides. Also, the Raptors are recording just 95.3 possessions per 48 minutes this postseason and will try to slow down the tempo, while the Bucks are averaging 102.6 possessions per 48 minutes. The under has hit in 11 of the Raptors’ last 14 outings, and I think they are capable of slowing down the Bucks.
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