NBA

NBA playoffs: Three things that could decide Bucks v Raptors series

By Sports Desk May 15, 2019

The match-up between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors is one of the most intriguing of the entire NBA playoffs.

Milwaukee easily advanced to the Eastern Conference finals by topping the Boston Celtics. Meanwhile, Toronto managed to squeeze past the Philadelphia 76ers in seven games.

Top-seeded Milwaukee and Toronto were the two leading teams in the East throughout 2018-19. Both have at least two All-Stars and multi-dimensional offenses.

The Bucks beat the Raptors three of the four times the teams met during the regular season.

Ahead of Game 1 in Milwaukee on Wednesday, we pick out three things that could be crucial in the series.

  Kawhi v Giannis

This is the match-up everyone wants to see.

Raptors wing Kawhi Leonard and Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo are two of the game's brightest stars.

Each has delivered for his team time and again this postseason. Antetokounmpo is difficult to stop around the rim, and Leonard hit the biggest shot in Raptors history when he knocked down a dramatic fourth-quarter buzzer-beater in Game 7 against Philadelphia.

Leonard and Antetokounmpo are go-to scorers who can also change a game defensively. It will be enormous fun to watch them face off multiple times.

Battle of the benches

The Bucks' bench is one of their strengths. The Raptors definitely cannot say the same.

Milwaukee will rely on their second unit for long stretches and can depend on as many as nine players. Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill and Pat Connaughton have all made an impact for the Bucks so far in the playoffs, and Malcolm Brogdon returned from a foot injury in Game 5 against the Celtics.

Toronto, on the other hand, have received little from their reserves, which has forced coach Nick Nurse to play his starters heavy minutes throughout the postseason. The Raptors will hope that trend does not continue.

  OG Anunoby’s status

It is unclear whether OG Anunoby will return in this series.

The 21-year-old Toronto forward underwent an emergency appendectomy in mid-April and has yet to play in the playoffs. He did some light work at practice earlier this week.

Anunoby, however, is still at least a week from ramping up activities, which means he will not make it back onto the court until the latter part of the series.

He is only likely to feature if the series stretches to Game 6 or 7, scheduled for May 25 and 27.

If he does manage to make his 2019 postseason debut and is healthy against the Bucks, the towering Anunoby would provide the Raptors with another player capable of guarding Antetokounmpo.

That could make all the difference.

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    The Milwaukee Bucks will not collapse despite their damaging defeat to the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals on Thursday, Giannis Antetokounmpo has vowed.

    Antetokounmpo finished with 24 points, six assists and six rebounds in the 105-99 reverse on home court, though he went off late on after suffering an ankle injury.

    The Bucks took the lead in the series but have now lost three successive matches, with the Raptors 3-2 ahead, and able to secure an NBA Finals place should they win the sixth game on Saturday.

    But Antetokounmpo insists the Bucks are still in the fight.

    "We're not going to fold," Antetokounmpo told a news conference.

    "We're the best team in the league. We're gonna go in, give it everything we got. We can't fold. We're gonna come back to Milwaukee being p*****.

    "I just want to win. I think we had a chance to win it, but we didn't. Obviously, I'm p*****. I am not gonna lie to you. We got two more games to go."

  • Raptors must live for the moment as NBA Finals beckon, says Leonard Raptors must live for the moment as NBA Finals beckon, says Leonard

    Kawhi Leonard has urged his Toronto Raptors team-mates to "enjoy the moment" after they moved to within one win of the NBA Finals.

    Leonard starred with a 35-point game on Thursday, as the Raptors took a 3-2 series lead over the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals after a 105-99 win at the Fiserv Forum.

    A victory in the sixth game on Saturday would confirm the Raptors' place in the Finals for the first time in franchise history.

    And 2019 All-Star Leonard - an NBA champion with the San Antonio Spurs in 2014 - says the Raptors must embrace the pressure.

    "Experience helps a lot," Leonard told a news conference. "I've been here before, I've been to the finals, it's pretty much nothing new that I'm seeing.

    "You've just got to have fun with it, enjoy it. I told them tonight, when we were down 10, to enjoy the moment and embrace it and have fun and love it, this is why we're here.

    "It's a great opportunity. What you work for in the summer is to win basketball games. 

    "The same mindset through the play-offs is to come in, have fun, try to execute as best as I can. Play confident and whatever happens will happen."

    Leonard did not exert the same authority on proceedings as he has done in earlier matches throughout the series, but came up with a match-winning performance in the fourth quarter.

    Having opened the Raptors' scoring in the final period with two jumpers, Leonard followed up with a pair of three-pointers to nudge his side ahead.

    The 27-year-old also provided nine assists, but insists that he is not a player that aims to dictate the Raptors' play

    "I'm not a guy that really controls the ball the whole game. I just try to give other people the opportunities to shine, and not try to be a dominant ball player," Leonard said.

    "I try to stay with a consistent mindset throughout the whole game, trying to read the defence throughout the entire game, see what's working. 

    "I'm not afraid of the moment, I enjoy it. You've just got to go and shoot the ball, that’s my mindset.

    "Get to a spot, help my team win the game. If it's me scoring points or getting my team-mates wide open. I'm just out there trying to win, be aggressive, don't shy away from anything."

  • Raptors fan Drake: I love this team and we're going to the NBA Finals Raptors fan Drake: I love this team and we're going to the NBA Finals

    Toronto Raptors superfan Drake said his courtside antics during the Eastern Conference Finals have not been "disrespectful" as he continued to troll the Milwaukee Bucks following Thursday's Game 5.

    The Grammy Award-winning Canadian rapper has become a major storyline during the series, laughing at MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo when the Bucks star missed a free throw and rubbing the shoulders of Toronto head coach Nick Nurse in Game 4.

    Antetokounmpo's former agent Georgios Dimitropoulos tweeted that he had "never seen anything as disrespectful as this before" in a now-deleted post, while Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said there was "no place" for the type of exuberant reactions Drake had been displaying courtside.

    Drake, who is a global ambassador for the Raptors, was watching in Toronto when his team beat the Bucks 105-99 in Milwaukee to take a 3-2 lead in the series, and he defended his antics when speaking to reporters afterwards.

    "We have the best player, we have the best fans in the whole NBA, in the whole world," he said.

    "Look around you, look at this, we created this. This didn't exist before we were here, look around at the square, this didn't exist before we were here, we did this.

    "It doesn't matter what anybody says. They can say it's disrespectful, they can say, it's this, it's that.

    "Everybody's within the rules, everybody's doing their thing. All we are is proud and passionate. We are like a college sports team - the Toronto Raptors are a college sports team, I promise you.

    "I love Toronto, I love this team and we're going to the NBA Finals."

    While the 32-year-old was not in Milwaukee, the Bucks' owner's daughter Mallory Edens was sat courtside wearing a t-shirt of Pusha T, a rapper with whom Drake has had a feud with.

    That was clearly noticed by Drake, who changed his Instagram avatar to a picture of Edens after the game.

    He also uploaded a picture of Edens onto his story with the caption "All is fair in war and war and trust me I'll still get you tickets to ovo fest".

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