The Milwaukee Bucks (36-13) and Toronto Raptors (37-15) are the two leaders in the East, and they’re jockeying not only for home court advantage in a playoff series, but also for whose coach will lead the East’s all-star team. For the record, Nick Nurse is paying attention and gunning for the opportunity. However, Milwaukee leads the series so far 2-1, and the latter two battles have been dramatic, playoff-style affairs.
They represent two interesting – and different – styles of team building. The Bucks, of course, have been building their roster from the ground up, as they drafted Giannis Antetokounmpo. They’ve surrounded him with shooters across the roster, and they offer five separate players shooting 39 percent from deep or higher on the roster. Even center Brook Lopez, listed as the 15th-tallest player in the league, hits step-back triples from the top of the key. It’s unfair.
The Raptors have a superstar just as physically dominant as Antetokounmpo. While Antetokounmpo’s length and freaky strides make him unique, Kawhi Leonard dominates players with his strength. He is one of the strongest players in the league, and his ability to absorb contact much larger men without being bumped off his lines is reminiscent of prime LeBron James. Leonard is a killer in isolation and the post, and he scores efficiently from everywhere on the court.
The Raptors don’t have as much shooting surrounding Leonard, but they do have a lot of playmaking. Kyle Lowry is one of the best passers in the league, and Fred Van Vleet and Pascal Siakam are worthy initiators in their own rights. Norman Powell’s best skill is probably attacking the rim out of the high pick-and-roll. Serge Ibaka loves taking bigs off the dribble (probably a bit too much, if we’re being honest). Only Danny Green seems like a player who would fit seamlessly into the Bucks’ system. It makes sense that the Raptors are built less obviously with Leonard in mind, as they only recently traded for him.
Both teams also have differing defensive strategies. Milwaukee plays how Toronto played last year. They drop their center very low against high pick-and-rolls, which offers opponents lots of pull-up 3s and open midrangers. Correspondingly, Milwaukee allows the fewest attempts at the rim in the league and the most attempts from deep. Serge Ibaka historically has dominated in those situations, and he’s led the team in scoring (25.7 points per game) in the matchup.
Toronto is slightly more aggressive in its coverages, allowing fewer attempts from deep and at the rim, though not to any extreme either way. They rely on stout point-of-attack defence and tight rotations behind the ball, comfortable that any Raptor on the floor can capably guard any opponent in isolation. That’s usually true, although Antetokounmpo is one giant caveat.
Toronto has experimented quite a bit with small lineups against Milwaukee, running Siakam at center in relatively large minutes. It hasn’t worked. Lowry-Powell-Green-Miles-Siakam (-5 in 42 seconds), Van Vleet-Green-Anunoby-Leonard-Siakam (-4 in 54 seconds), and Lowry-Brown-Green-Miles-Siakam (-4 in 1 minutes) are among the lineups that have gotten Toronto into trouble against Milwaukee. If Nick Nurse chooses to play small once again rather than wheel Greg Monroe out to fail against a barrage of shooters, hope for the lineup to tread water rather than build a lead. Their only hope is to force turnovers and run in transition. If Toronto does build a lead, it will be with Ibaka on the floor.
The game tips at 8:00 PM ET on TSN for TV and TheFan590 for radio. You can read an excellent preview from Samson Folk, apparent flat-earther, here.
Jonas Valanciunas is still ruled out, although he is close. He’s the only name listed on the injury report.
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, Delon Wright
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Malachi Richardson
SF: Kawhi Leonard, OG Anunoby, CJ Miles, Patrick McCaw
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe
Donte DiVincenzo (heel) is the only name on the injury report here. Thon Maker may not see the floor, due to a recent trade demand, which is music to the ears of Raptors fans used to Maker explosions against Toronto.
PG: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill
SG: Malcolm Brogdon, Pat Connaughton
SF: Khris Middleton, Tony Snell
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, DJ Wilson, Ersan Ilyasova
C: Brook Lopez, Christian Wood, Thon Maker
Toronto is -2.5, which is odd at surface level because they’ve lost the season series and have a worse record, but also makes sense because they’re at home. I’d say it’s maybe a touch high, but generally fair. The over-under is 232.