The Toronto Raptors have reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in franchise history. After explosive, epic, and emotional seven-game series. No ending could have personified how close and how dramatic the series became.
The script has officially flipped from the 2001 NBA Semifinals featuring the same matchup. Allen Iverson and the city of brotherly love had their chance in 2001, but its now Kawhi Leonard and the 6ix’s chance to make the NBA Finals and potentially take it all home despite being down 2-0 in the series.
Depth and Flexibility
I expect less playing time from Gasol and more minutes for Ibaka as Brook Lopez is a definite perimeter threat with his outside shooting. I also expect big minutes from Siakam and Kawhi in guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Milwaukee is a guard heavy team with veterans Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Sterling Brown, and George Hill. I expect Nurse to dive deep into his bench and play Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell to combat the guard play from Milwaukee. The first two games were a true example of how Coach Nick Nurse utilized his depth within his roster, playing Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet big minutes.
The Kawhi Scenario
Throughout Kawhi Leonard’s career, this is his fourth Conference Finals appearance. Its playoff time. The time where winning now is all that matters. That couldn’t be anymore true and applicable for the Toronto Raptors. The Raptors have yet to make it to the NBA Finals in franchise history. And with Kawhi’s future uncertain with the Raptors, there is no better time to hop on this opportunity than now. His decision in the off-season will not only change the landscape of the whole NBA, but his decision will also influence the decisions made by other free agents to either compete against him, join him, or avoid his conference. Kawhi Leonard is the engine that run this Raptors squad and the time is now for the Raptors.
Numbers Don’t Lie
Against the number one seeded Milwaukee Bucks, the Raptors did not fair well losing the regular season series 3-1. Although Kawhi only played in three of the four games in the regular season, the Bucks were still able to oust the Raptors 2-1 with Kawhi active. Milwaukee is also ranked first in Offensive Net Rating, Defensive Net Rating, and Overall True Net Rating. The Bucks are an efficient and sound team on both ends of the floor who likes to play fast with Giannis leading the break. The biggest challenge for Toronto will be to slow down the pace of the game against the Bucks.
Size and Length
Milwaukee features a lot of talent across the roster. But most notiably, they are filled with big men who can shoot the ball. Nikola Mirotic is a deadly shooter from deep, and Brook Lopez is shooting a career high from 3 point range. Lopez’s presence caught the Raptors by surprised as he tallied a playoff career-high 29 points and 11 rebounds in the Game 1 victory. Toronto does have guys like Ibaka and Gasol to contain Lopez and Mirotic, but you have to ask if they can equalize the Bucks’ bigs on a consistent basis.
As a die hard Raptors fan, it hurts my heart to say that this matchup will be a junkyard dog’s fight. The Milwaukee Bucks are a dangerous team with an identity and pieces that match up well against Toronto. If Kawhi continues playing on a tear, the big men and Toronto can match up defensively against Milwaukee’s big men, and if the bench can carry their weight, the Raptors can pull this series out in 7.