For the Milwaukee Bucks, tonight’s game five may as well be do-or-die (8:30 PM ET Thursday). After opening the series 2-0, and looking like they were going to sweep their way through to the finals, the Bucks now find themselves tied with the Toronto Raptors, with momentum fully shifted in their Eastern Conference Finals series.
Can the team with the NBA’s best record find a way to recapture their success of the first two games? Or are the Raptors ready to rise and go to the NBA Finals for the first time in their history?
When the Eastern Conference Finals began, the Bucks and Raptors had traveled different paths. After dispatching the Boston Celtics in five games to open the playoffs, the Bucks went on to demolish the Detroit Pistons in a clean sweep in the conference semifinals.
The Raptors, who also won their first round series against the Orlando Magic in five games, needed a bit more and an incredible buzzer-beating circus shot, to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games. Given the Bucks played the minimum amount of games and the Raptors the maximum, Milwaukee entered the series having had a full week’s rest. The Raptors received just a few days.
At this point in the season, rest is invaluable as between travel and extended minutes, players need the time off. However, the contrary is also true that too much rest can be a negative thing as well. Especially for a team playing as good as any other in the playoffs, such as the Bucks had been doing.
In game one, it could be said the rest may have quelled some of that momentum as Milwaukee managed just 23 points in the first quarter. The Raptors however, still hot over their emotional victory the series before, carried that into the game to reel off 34 first quarter points against the best regular season team in the NBA.
After settling in, the Bucks cut the lead to eight and then seven after the third quarter. But the Raptors were still in control. That is until everything clicked into place for Milwaukee as they scored 32 points in the fourth and allowed Toronto just 17. A seven point lead for the Raptors turned into a 15 point swing for the Bucks, who took game one, 108-100. Despite both Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry posting 31 and 30 point games respectively, once again, lack of depth cost the Raptors as five Bucks scored in double figures including a massive 29-point game from Brook Lopez, compared to just three from Toronto. In fact, the Raptors got all but 76 of their 100 points, from just three players, compared to the Bucks, who received significant contributions from seven of the nine players who received minutes.
The Bucks carried this domination over to game two, opening up the contest with a 35-point first quarter, while holding the Raptors to just 21. Milwaukee continued to open up the lead even greater by outscoring Toronto by 11 in the second. Entering the half down 25, the Raptors chipped away in the third quarter, but the Bucks still came into the fourth up 17. Milwaukee outscored Toronto by five points in the final quarter as well, ending the game in their favor, 125-103. While the Raptors provided minutes to 13 different players, a similar issue from game one occurred. Leonard contributed 31 points and Lowry had 15 but beyond that, only Norman Powell scored in double figures with the rest of the bench combining for just 25 points. 13 players got into the game for Milwaukee as well, but compared to Toronto, six of them scored in double figures.
Meaningful minutes and playing time has really told the story of this series. In game three, the Raptors, knowing they needed to win to not go down 3-0, which is such a tough margin to come back from, opened up a nine point lead in the first and entered the half up seven. The Bucks cut that lead to just two heading into the fourth and to zero at the end of regulation, holding the Raptors to two straight quarters of just 19 points. The game needed two overtimes, the second of which saw the Raptors score 15 points to the Bucks’ nine as Toronto ultimately won the game, 118-112.
The key difference between game three and the first two? Five of the nine Raptors who received playing time, scored in double figures led by another huge game from Leonard, who led all scorers with 36 points, as well as the best games of the series from both Pascal Siakim and Marc Gasol, who up to that point had been largely ineffective.
In game four, the Raptors never ceased control, outscoring the Bucks in each quarter, ultimately winning in a blowout, 120-102. Six players, including three of whom came off the bench, scored in double figures. It was Toronto’s best bench game of the series and it showed. By contrast, it was Milwaukee’s worst bench game as their bench contributed for just 23 of the team’s 102 points. That’s a departure from the rest of the series where Milwaukee’s bench had been instrumental and Toronto’s had been lacking.
Our Betting Preview’s Toronto Raptors vs Milwaukee Bucks Predictions for Game 5 with Picks
Both the Raptors and the Bucks are great teams with great players. That should surprise no one as they wouldn’t be in the conference finals if they weren’t. The difference so far this series has been how the teams have performed when some of those great players haven’t been at their best.
Aside from Leonard and Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo, who have been on all series as one would expect, the remaining starters and bench players’ performances have fluctuated. And beyond their stars, both teams need these other players to step up more consistently if they hope to have a chance to dethrone the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals, who are playing their best basketball now, even without Kevin Durant.
But first, the Raptors and Bucks have to get past one another. Despite the Raptors taking the last two in a row, the Bucks actually sit as seven point favorites at home. Toronto has the momentum though and they don’t look like they are ready to lose it. These are our Toronto Raptors vs Milwaukee Bucks Game 5 predictions for this preview: