TOR @ MIL
Game 1 Time: 7:30 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: MIL -6.5
Odds c/o 5dimes
The top two teams in the Eastern Conference prevailed and now collide against one another in the Eastern Conference Finals. The No. 1 seeded Milwaukee Bucks will host the No. 2 seeded Toronto Raptors at 7:30 CT on TNT. Milwaukee is 6.5-point favorites in Game 1, with the over/under set at 218 points according to NBA oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes.
Let us examine how these teams stack up against one another on a by-position basis.
Backcourts: Kyle Lowry & Danny Green vs. Eric Bledsoe & Malcolm Brogdon
Kyle Lowry is the only All-Star among these starting backcourts, but it is difficult to ascertain his status as such by his postseason performances. Lowry has notoriously disappeared in the playoffs throughout his career, and this year is no exception. He has averaged just 12.4 points and 7.1 assists per game, down from his 14.2 and 8.7 during the regular season. Against Milwaukee this year, Lowry averaged just six points and eight assists per game while shooting 23 percent from the field (in three matchups). That hardly bodes well for Toronto. Danny Green is what he is: a distance shooter.
Comparatively, the Bucks sport a versatile pair of combo guards in Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon. Moreover, the Bucks backcourt defends better as the interchangeable pair it is. Bledsoe certainly peaked pre-injury early in his career, but he has done well in the 2019 playoffs nonetheless. This year he has tallied averages of 16 points and four assists per game while posting a PER of 19.00. While it may be Lowry who has been the All-Star starter in the past, he has hardly played like it while Brogdon and Bledsoe have been efficient and great on defense.
Frontcourts: Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol vs. Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam have been outstanding and largely carried the Raptors. Marc Gasol is a nice upgrade the team made mid-season by trading Jonas Valanciunas. Gasol offers better high post passing as a facilitator for his two talented wings. Siakam has really come into his own this season and is the likely recipient of the Most Improved Player award when this season concludes. Leonard has been not-so-quietly establishing himself as one of the “Top Tier” NBA players, and his clutch triple to eliminate the Philadelphia 76ers will haunt Philly fans for years to come.
But the Bucks cannot be slept on here, obviously, either, with likely MVP winner Giannis Antetokounmpo and a severely overlooked Khris Middleton alongside him. Middleton is an outstanding defender, like the Bucks entire starting lineup (outside of Brook Lopez), and he has averaged 19.1 points per game, 4.6 assists, and six rebounds.
Antetokounmpo has wrecked major damage while enjoying plenty of rest, too. The “Greek Freak” has played just 31 minutes per game, but still, he has averaged 27.4 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 4.4 assists while coming up with 2.8 blocks/steals per game. His PER is over 31. Lopez serves mostly as a shooter, but he does not rebound well and he will have his problems covering Gasol (because he has problems covering everyone). Expect the Bucks to find minutes for Nikola Mirotic if it can go small for stretches, although Mirotic is a poor defender in his own right. The 5-spot gives Toronto one of its few advantages in this series, while the forward positions are something close to a wash.
Edge: Toronto, by a hair
The Milwaukee Bucks made major upgrades to its bench that have paid off this postseason. George Hill adds depth in the backcourt, and he is a veteran who can make plays and control pace. Mirotic, while inconsistent, can be lights-out from deep.
Pat Connaughton brings some toughness, intangibles, and a steady force off the bench due to his effort and hustle. Ersan Ilyasova is a great defender in pick and roll sets and also adds another stretch-4. Second-year shooting guard Sterling Brown has also seen 18.9 minutes per game, but he has not made a tremendous impact for the Bucks. Toronto erstwhile is a bit shorter on depth.
Fred VanVleet can be a shooter much like Patty Mills, but he does not offer much more. Norman Powell is a strong 2-guard but is no better than replacement-level at his position. Serge Ibaka may prove crucial, though, for the Raptors. Though he is no longer a starter, he is a key reserve behind Siakam, who has battled some injuries in this postseason. Ibaka adds a quality insurance policy in case Siakam’s injuries worsen, and beyond that his leadership and defensive capability will aid Toronto in the second unit. Ibaka’s importance cannot be stated enough, because the Bucks have two stretch-4s that will require all his mobility and savvy to prevent big second and third quarter Bucks’ runs.
The Final Word
The Bucks are the better team in this series, but Toronto has turned it on this postseason, and Kawhi Leonard has been sensational. These teams are quite evenly pitted, despite Milwaukee being 6.5 point favorites in Game 1. The Bucks are a tough oust at home, and it will need to reel off victories in both Games 1 and 2 to maintain the home court advantage, which could be one of the biggest edges the Bucks have in this series.
Leonard and Antetounkounmpo could largely cancel one another out, and other than the 5-spot the Raptors do not have any other areas it has much of an advantage in. If Marc Gasol pulls a monster series out from under his sleeve, that could be the only way Toronto is able to better the Bucks in a seven-game series, and that is sort of asking a lot because Gasol has had humble averages of eight points and five rebounds per game this postseason. It seems unlikely his role is shifted to a Memphis-type-level, but it may be just what the Raptors need to exploit the weak defense of Brook Lopez.
Prediction: Bucks in 6