Raptors Lead

Raptors Turn Their Sights on Giannis


Survive and advance; the motto of the playoffs.  Toronto, following a crazy shot from Kawhi Leonard, has done just that.  The Raptors return to the Eastern Conference Finals after years of having their season ended by LeBron James, including three years ago in their first ever Eastern Conference Finals appearance.  While James leaving the conference has opened the door for a new Eastern Champion, Toronto has one final hurdle to overcome.  Giannis Antetokounmpo is playing like a young LeBron and has a roster deeper than anything Toronto has faced so far.

History Tells a Stark Story

Looking back at the season series will not paint a picture any Raptors’ fan will enjoy.  Milwaukee won the season series 3-1 this year, winning by an average of 11 points.  It started when Milwaukee beat Toronto in October when they were the final two unbeaten teams.  Giannis and Kawhi both did not play, but Milwaukee was able to continue their streak.  Well-rounded offense from Khris Middleton, Ersan Ilyasova, Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon paced the Bucks to a 15-point home win.  This was one of the early games where Pascal Siakam showed signs of the player he would be this season, posting 22 points on 10-for-16 shooting.  Serge Ibaka went for 30 and nine boards, taking advantage of a thin defensive front line for the Bucks.

The second game, while closer, did not prove to be much better for the North.  Leonard, Siakam and Ibaka combined to score 59 points.  Fred VanVleet was big off the bench, but Kyle Lowry made little impact on the game, going scoreless.  The Bucks had another well-rounded game with seven players scoring nine or more points.

In their most recent meeting, the Bucks pulled out another win in Toronto with yet another all-around effort.  As is the theme, seven Bucks scored in double figured with none over 20.  Siakam came up big again for the Raptors, but overall it was a forgettable game for Toronto.

Singular Ray of Hope

Toronto got their singular win in their next meeting in Milwaukee, despite a Herculean effort from Antetokounmpo.  The presumptive MVP had 43 points and 18 rebounds but the Raptors’ balanced attack was too much to overcome.  Middleton, Bledsoe, Brogdon, George Hill and Sterling Brown also scored in double figures.  Siakam, Leonard, Ibaka and VanVleet combined to score 106 alone in a game that Kyle Lowry missed due to a sore back.

Projecting Based on the Past

Toronto relied on a shortened rotation against Philadelphia due to injuries and inconsistencies.  Kawhi Leonard has put the team on his back for the entirety of the playoffs and will have to do so again.  Fatigue could be an issue as the Bucks have shown time and again that they will beat these Raptors with depth above all else.  Milwaukee has also had nearly a week off after dispatching the Celtics.

Malcolm Brogdon returned in the last game of the previous series after missing eight weeks with a torn plantar fascia.  Milwaukee’s bench has played nearly 40% of their minutes and has continued their practice of carrying the team through games.  The Raptors, however, play their bench less than 30% of the game and are averaging nearly 16 points less than the Bucks bench.  They will not have OG Anunoby back for at least the opener.   He is one of their bright young players and is sidelined recovering from an emergency appendectomy.

What the Future Holds

These two teams play very similar styles where they push the ball and play great defense.  Kawhi has made his resurgence this postseason into the argument for the best two-way player in the league.  Giannis is in the same conversation, in the running for MVP and Defensive Player of the Year this season.  The Raptors have had a special season.  They are doing everything they can to show their impending free agents that this is a championship situation.  They have their best team in a world where the boogeyman they have known, LeBron James, is finally gone.  Unfortunately, a scarier villain and a better overall team is in their way.  How they manage the challenge will define the direction of their franchise.  The Toronto faithful will embrace this moment and enjoy the ride as long as it lasts.


About Corey Rausch

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