While the King has been absent in the 2019 NBA Playoffs, its left room for other squire’s to take his place and in the Eastern Conference Finals, we have a showdown between two noble knights in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard.
It’s sort of weird not having LeBron James play meaningful basketball in May, right?
The Toronto Raptors will travel to Wisconsin on Wednesday to take on the Greek Freak and NBA’s best team (in terms of record) the Milwaukee Bucks. In what is set to be a test between two of the best players in the league, the series raises a lot of questions about who will take the reigns of the East from LeBron.
The stakes are high for both teams. For the Raptors, winning the series would mean reaching the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
For the Bucks, winning would mean reaching the NBA Finals for the first time since 1974 when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the cinder block for their franchise. Now, with Giannis as the cornerstone, they’re trying to reach the same heights.
So without further ado, let’s breakdown some of the key factors in this series.
Godzilla versus King Kong
Other then the fact that the NBA is promoting the new ‘Godzilla: King of Monsters’ movie with every chance they get, there is also a chance in this series to see two monsters go head-to-head.
The biggest factor in this series will be the duel between Giannis and Kawhi Leonard who have had phenomenal runs in the Playoffs, so far. Giannis has been dominant in the first two rounds of the 2019 NBA Playoffs averaging 27 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists while shooting over 52% from the field. He’s also added 1 block and 1 steal per game as well. In his three games against the Raptors this season, Giannis has averaged nearly the same numbers scoring 27, grabbing 15 rebounds and dishing out 5 assists while shooting a whopping 60% (Note: all three of these games are before the Raptors acquisition of Marc Gasol). So it’s fair to say, Giannis likes playing against Toronto.
For the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard has been their absolute savior in the 2019 NBA Playoffs. Other than hitting one of the greatest shots in NBA history and the greatest shot in Raptors history, Leonard has saved them in many other ways during the Playoffs. He’s led the team in Playoff scoring, averaging 31 points per game and 38 points per game in the last series against the Sixers. What he did against Philly has put him beside some of the greats of the game. He’s one of only five players in NBA history to record 150 points, 30 rebounds and 15 assists through the first four games of a Playoff series. He also became the only player other than Shaquille O’Neal to average 38 points while shooting 60% from the field in the first four games of a series.
This series truly has mythical beings facing off with the ‘Greek Freak’ and the ‘Klaw’.
The Supporting Cast
These are two teams with supporting casts on opposite spectrums of their capability. While the Bucks don’t necessarily have the most talented roster (minus the all-stars Giannis and Middleton), their supporting players have been phenomenal throughout the Playoffs. Pat Connaughton has been great, averaging 8 points and 8 rebounds. On top of that, George Hill and Nikola Mirotic have been revelations for the Bucks in the 2019 NBA Playoffs. Hill has averaged 12 points shooting over 40% from behind the arc and Mirotic’s acquisition has helped them spread the floor out even more.
For the Raptors, outside of Kawhi Leonard, their team has been inconsistent. Marc Gasol and Kyle Lowry have been inconsistent. Danny Green has apparently forgotten how to shoot, he scored 2 points in Game 7 against Philly and while Pascal Siakam was amazing through the first half of the Sixers series, he was a shell of himself as Philadelphia’s defense adjusted.
While the discussion will revolve around the play of the Greek Freak and the Claw, their supporting casts will be just as important of a factor in order for either team to take control of this series.
Hit ‘Em Where It Hurts
Under newly appointed Head Coach Mike Budenholzer, the Bucks rank 1st in both percentage of shot allowed at the rim and opponent field goal percentage. That means they make it tough to get to the rim and tough to score in general. For a Raptors team that has struggled to hit their shots this post-season, that will cause issues.
Where the Raptors can take advantage of the Bucks is behind the arc. The Bucks allow 36.3% of shots from beyond the 3-point line and their opponents only hit 38% of those shots. While the Raptors were a great 3-point shooting team in the regular season, in the Playoffs they’ve struggled. In Game 7, the Raptors shot 23% from the 3-point line.
If Toronto wants an advantage, they have to hit their shots, especially from beyond the arc.
Prediction: Bucks in 7
I’ve been battling this pretty much all season. I knew that the Eastern Conference would come down to the Bucks and Raptors but deciding which one is better has been the battle. The Bucks are pretty much the number 1 team in the NBA. In more than one way. They have a ridiculous point differential, they’ve been destroying teams in the Playoffs and own the best regular season record in the NBA. As hard as this is for me to say as a Torontonian, I have to pick the Bucks in 7 in the 2019 NBA Playoffs.
2019 NBA Playoffs Eastern Conference Finals Schedule:
Game 1: Wed, May 15, Toronto at Milwaukee, 8:30 ET, TNT
Game 2: Fri, May 17, Toronto at Milwaukee, 8:30 ET, TNT
Game 3: Sun, May 19, Milwaukee at Toronto, 7 ET, TNT
Game 4: Tue, May 21, Milwaukee at Toronto, 8:30 ET, TNT
*Game 5: Thu, May 23, Toronto at Milwaukee, 8:30 ET, TNT
*Game 6: Sat, May 25, Milwaukee at Toronto, 8:30 ET, TNT
*Game 7: Mon, May 27, Toronto at Milwaukee, 8:30 ET, TNT