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Milwaukee Bucks host Toronto Raptors in opening game of Eastern Conference Finals

Watch Toronto Raptors @ Milwaukee Bucks Game 1 live on Sky Sports Arena in the early hours of Thursday morning (1.30am)

Thursday 16 May 2019 05:03, UK

Giannis Antetokounmpo reacts during the overtime defeat to the New York Knicks
Image: Giannis Antetokounmpo is co-favourite for MVP this year

Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks host Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Live NBA: Toronto @ Milwaukee

Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs Toronto Raptors (2)

  • Game 1: Raptors @ Bucks, May 16, 1:30am
  • Game 2: Raptors @ Bucks, May 18, 1:30am
  • Game 3: Bucks @ Raptors, May 20, 12am
  • Game 4: Bucks @ Raptors, May 22, 1:30am
  • Game 5 if necessary: Raptors @ Bucks, May 24, 1:30am
  • Game 6 if necessary: Bucks @ Raptors, May 26, 1:30am
  • Game 7 if necessary: Raptors @ Bucks, May 28, 1:30am
  • All games broadcast live on Sky Sports Arena

Depth could make the difference when the well-rested Bucks host the series opener against the visiting Raptors, who were extended to the last possible second before sealing a dramatic Game 7 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Sunday night.

The Bucks finished with the NBA's best record and won the season series 3-1 against the Raptors, who had the league's second-best record.

The focus of the best-of-seven series will be on marquee players - Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo and Toronto's Kawhi Leonard. Then there are such significant players as the Bucks' Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe and the Raptors' Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam. The remaining casts could determine the outcome, however.

Playoff Picture: How things stand

Playoff Picture: How things stand

How are the Conference Finals unfolding?

By relying so heavily on a shortened rotation in a gruelling series with the Philadelphia 76ers, won by Leonard's buzzer-beating shot for the ages, the Raptors might become a victim of fatigue. The Bucks, meanwhile, not only have had a week off, but have confidence in their reserves.

Malcolm Brogdon, after missing eight weeks with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot, returned to play 17 minutes in the finale of the five-game semi-final win over the Boston Celtics last Wednesday and that makes the Bucks roster even deeper.

Milwaukee Toronto 6:27
Bucks analyst Marques Johnson previews Milwaukee's Eastern Conference Finals series with the Toronto Raptors

The Raptors have missed OG Anunoby, who had an emergency appendectomy at the end of the regular season. He has been ruled out for the series opener.

More on this story

"In this atmosphere and environment, it takes a lot of energy and effort to be great defensively," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "We're similar offensively - we want to play fast, we want to get out and run and move. If we can have more people to throw at the process, more people to throw at our opponent and keep us in a good place, it's an advantage."

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The Raptors will be dealing with a different style in the Bucks than against Philadelphia and in the five-game series against the Orlando Magic.

"It's a totally different style than we've just been through in our last two series," Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. "These were set-play teams, pretty methodical on offense. Not to say Milwaukee doesn't do some of that, too, but they would much rather spread the floor, give it to a guy, put their head down and take it to the rim, put it in the rim. If you send help, they'll fire it out and they're going to shoot a ton of threes."

Key Battle: Raptors bench vs Bucks bench

George Hill attacks against Al Horford
Image: George Hill attacks against Al Horford

Both teams used their benches effectively during the regular season but while Milwaukee's reserves remained significant as they breezed through its first two playoff rounds, Toronto has had limited contributions from their backups.

Per NBA.com, Milwaukee's bench has played 39.8 per cent of the team's playoff minutes, averaging 37.4 points on 48.1 per cent shooting. The Raptors' reserves, however, have played less than 30 per cent of Toronto's playoff minutes - including just 24.8 per cent against Philadelphia - and have averaged a meagre 21.6 points per game on 38.9 per cent shooting.

Last time out

Joel Embiid of the Philadelphia 76ers shoots the ball against the Toronto Raptors during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2019 NBA Playoffs 3:23
Highlights from the Toronto Raptors' dramatic 92-90 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals
Giannis Antetokounmpo is guarded by Al Horford during Game 5 2:27
Highlights from the Milwaukee Bucks' series-clinching 116-91 Game 5 win over the Boston Celtics

Numbers game

15.2 - That is Milwaukee's net rating (the differential between their points scored and points allowed per 100 possessions). It's the best of any playoff team by a distance (Toronto are second with an 8.1 net rating).

While the Bucks' figure is skewed by their one-sided first-round sweep of the overmatched Detroit Pistons, it is also illustrative of the Bucks' ability to dominate opponents at both ends of the court.

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One to watch (Raptors): Pascal Siakam

Pascal Siakam snags a rebound against Boston
Image: Pascal Siakam snags a rebound against Boston

Toronto's young forward enjoyed a breakout regular season and boasts postseason averages of 20.8 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. However, in this series, his dream season could become a nightmare as he will spend a lot of time guarding (and being guarded by) Antetokounmpo.

Giannis has proved to be unstoppable offensively this season. Defensively, he has the ability to erase Siakam from this series. Any success Siakam can have against the MVP co-favourite - from hitting threes to disrupting Giannis' offensive flow - would be a boon for the Raptors.

One to watch (Bucks): Eric Bledsoe

Eric Bledsoe attacks the Indiana defense off the dribble
Image: Eric Bledsoe attacks the Indiana defense off the dribble

When their starting point guard performs at his best, the Bucks look borderline unstoppable. The problem is his propensity for serving up sub-par performances at critical moments.

In the Bucks' semi-final series with the Boston Celtics, Bledsoe powered his way to 21 points in Game 2 but that was sandwiched by clunkers in Games 1 and 3. He struggled in Game 4 too, but the Bucks were rescued by George Hill off the bench.

At his best, Bledsoe is a terrifying two-way force, able to barrel his way to the rim and bully opposing guards with his physical defense. He has enjoyed success against Raptors guard Kyle Lowry before. Which side of 'Bled' will we see in Game 1?

Watch Raptors @ Bucks live on Sky Sports Arena in the early hours of Thursday morning (1:30am).

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