The Toronto Raptors had little time to celebrate one of the NBA’s greatest game 7 victories. Moments after Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer-beater gave the Raptors a 92-90 victory against the Philadelphia 76’ers, and plans were already being made for a trip to Milwaukee to face the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Championship.
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The Bucks have been waiting to find out who their opponent would be since last Wednesday when they capped off a 5-game series win against Boston with a 116-91 victory at home. The Bucks are 8-1 in the playoffs so far and have yet to play a team that matches their star power.
In the Raptors, the Bucks face a team that not only can match their star power, but have the same Basketball IQ and team mentality. These two teams were ranked no 1 and no 2 in the regular season. The two stars, Leonard for Toronto and Giannis Antetokounmpo for the Bucks, rank 1 and 2 in player efficiency rating, which measures a player’s per-minute productivity. It’s the kind of matchup that you want in the Conference Finals; the best facing off against the best.
Leonard has been effective in the last two series against the Orlando Magic and the Sixers, but in the Bucks, he faces the NBA’s top-ranked defense. The Bucks like to smother teams defensively, scrambling all over the court to suppress shots. The enormous Brook Lopez is at the center of it all, swatting away balls in the paint and providing excellent rim protection.
On the other side of the court, the Bucks present an even greater threat. They are the NBA’s most dynamic offense, with a versatile attack that utilizes all players, especially Antetokounmpo, who finished third in league scoring this year with 27.7 points per game. So far in these playoffs, the Bucks are generating offense at 111.6 clip (offensive efficiency), second behind only the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
While the Bucks have the more impressive offensive and defensive numbers, what they don’t have is a lot of experience in the playoffs beyond the first two rounds. George Hill is the only Milwaukee player who has played in the conference finals and beyond, while the Raptors roster has played a collective 116 games in the final rounds of the playoffs.
Still, for game 1, the Raptors will be playing the role of the underdog (+6½-110 spread, o218-110 total, +220 money line). They lost three out of the four regular-season matchups with the Bucks, and have had little time to rest since their series win over Philly. The Bucks meanwhile are the favorites (-6½-110 spread, u218-110 total, -260 money line) having had almost a week’s worth of rest coming off their series win against Boston and having a near-perfect playoff record at 8-1. It is worth mentioning that their only loss came in Game 1 of the Boston series after the Bucks had swept the Pistons and had a 5-day rest.