The last time the Toronto Raptors set foot in Fiserv Forum, newly minted father Fred VanVleet decided to expand his parental duties by making the entire Milwaukee Bucks roster his children. VanVleet was unconscious from deep, carved the heart out of the Bucks, and well, you know how this story ends.
Toronto now head back to Milwaukee today in a rematch of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Bucks have struggled to emulate last year’s regular season success, unconvincingly limping to a 3-2 record. They are also on the second half of a back to back following their 123-91 blowout victory in Orlando last night. However, any team that employs the services of Giannis Antetokounmpo remain a frightening prospect. The do-it-all force of destruction is leading his team in points, rebounds, and assists. The Bucks orbit around his gravitational force.
Which brings us to Toronto. The biggest question from the Raptors’ perspective will be how O.G. Anunoby and Pascal Siakam fare guarding Antetokounmpo. Anunoby has jumped to a new level defensively during the opening five games and possesses the perfect body type (if there is one) to go toe to toe with the Greek Freak. However, this isn’t a one man job. Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka will need to repeat their playoff performances by shading towards Antetokounmpo any time he gets a sniff of space in the paint.
Thankfully, the Raptors’ defensive rebounding woes should not rear its head tonight. Milwaukee rank last in offensive rebounding percentage, instead opting to heave a heavy dosage of three-point shots and then quickly dropping back into their half-court defence. This early organization is a key part of the Bucks’ stout defence, it enables them to be the best team in the league at closing out possessions on the defensive glass.
As such, Toronto’s occasionally gummy offence will be tested. Given the fewer offensive possessions they expect to get, execution must be crisp. The Raptors’ offence has performed better than initially feared, and Siakam’s superstar shot-making has greased the wheels as things begin to tighten. Plus, Toronto have already been tested and proven more than capable against some quality NBA defences in Orlando and Boston. The Bucks should end the season as an top tier defence, but so far they haven’t tapped into their form from last seaason.
There are still rotational kinks to work out for Nick Nurse, most notably the heavy workload that the seven veterans are currently under. Nurse has admitted that the minutes distribution is not where he would like, it will be interesting if he decides to increase the role of the eighth and ninth men. Given the magnitude of this game and the four days rest following it, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the starters put in a long shift and the unproven bench wait to get their crack on the upcoming western road trip.
It’s going to be yet another fun test to gauge where Toronto rank in the Eastern Conference pecking order!
Tipoff: 8:00pm EST | TV: Sportsnet One| Radio: TSN 1050
PG: Kyle Lowry, Patrick McCaw, Terence Davis
SG: Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Matt Thomas
SF: OG Anunoby, Stanley Johnson, Malcolm Miller
PF: Pascal Siakam, Chris Boucher, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
C: Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka, Dewan Hernandez
Injury Notes: Kyle Korver (day to day)
PG: Eric Bledsoe, George Hill, Donte DiVincenzo
SG: Wesley Matthews, Pat Connaughton, Kyle Korver
SF: Khris Middleton, Sterling Brown
PF: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Ersan Ilyasova,
C: Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez, D.J. Wilson