Eastern Conference Finals Preview

Coming into the playoffs the thought of the second-round in the Eastern Conference Playoffs was very exciting and all of the top-four seeds ended up taking care of business in the first-round, leading to the second-round that we wanted in the East. The Bucks continued to dominate after their first-round sweep of the Pistons, they lost game one to the Celtics at home and Paul Pierce famously declared the series over in Boston’s favor. The series apparently was over, just in favor of the Bucks because they went on to dominate the rest of the series. The Raptors vs 76ers series lived up to the hype, going the distance and Kawhi Leonard hitting the game-winning shot at the buzzer.

Make no mistake about it, these two teams are led by their superstars. Kawhi Leonad and Giannis Antetokounmpo are playing as good as anyone on the planet right now.

Once you get past the stars though these two teams are very different. Milwaukee has a very good starting lineup of Antetokounmpo, Krhis Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez and they’ve been better since replacing Sterling Brown with Nikola Mirotic. The scary thing for the Raptors is that Bledsoe, Lopez and Mirotic haven’t really shot the ball from deep as well as they can and Giannis has still been so unstoppable when it comes to getting to the basket.

With that said though, the Raptors are the best defensive team by a good margin that the Bucks have seen so far this postseason, which is something that should make that battle interesting. Make no mistake about it though, the ability of the Raptors to slow down the Bucks offense will come down to their ability to somehow keep Giannis out of the paint. He has been the single-most dominant physical force in the postseason and it hasn’t mattered if the other guys are knocking down shots or not, nobody has been able to keep Giannis from getting to the basket when he wants and that’s basically game over when he gets there because right at the basket this season he shot nearly 77%.

Kawhi Leonard is of course an elite defender so it would make sense to put him on Giannis, but Giannis would have a good size advantage on him, but Kawhi could be able to neutralize his size a little bit with how good he is with his hands. If he can put pressure on Giannis at the top of the key before he gets to the paint he could make things much tougher on him.

Ultimately though whoever guards Giannis will need some help in the form of other players trying to dig down on him and quickly double just to throw different looks at him and then it will come down to the other guys on the floor knocking shots down because Giannis will make the right play and find the open guy if he’s being doubled.

For Toronto, the starting lineup has significantly relied on Kawhi Leonard. Leonard has been a monster during this postseason run, but the other guys in the starting lineup haven’t been shooting the ball as well as they will need to for them to win this series. Kyle Lowry has been much worse in the postseason than he was in the regular season, which is something that we’re used to at this point and Marc Gasol and Danny Green have been pretty up-and-down. Pascal Siakam has been the second-best player for the Raptors in the first two series, but he hasn’t been shooting the ball from deep nearly as well as he did during the regular season, but from two he has been really good and that has lead to him averaging 20.8 points per game so far in the playoffs.

When it comes to the benches that favors Milwaukee. Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell have been the most-productive off the bench for Toronto, but that’s really where the production stops. Fred VanVleet has been playing 19.4 minutes per game during the playoffs, but he has not been playing good only averaging 4.2 points per game and 2.5 assists per game and he is shooting 27.6% from the field.

Now Milwaukee isn’t the most deep team either, but the guys coming off of their bench have been much more productive. George Hill has been huge so far in the postseason, averaging 12.1 points per game and shooting over 41% from three. Malcolm Brogdon also made his return late in the series against Boston and that’s huge because he’s one of their best players. He could easily be inserted back into the starting lineup at some point this series, which would move Mirotic back to the bench, which would lead to a very dangerous shooter coming off of the bench. Another guy to watch for Milwaukee off the bench is Pat Connaughton. Offensively he has been very solid but probably even more impressive has been his rebounding. He’s averaging 7.9 rebounds per game in the playoffs, which is second just behind Giannis.

Overall this series has some interesting matchups. I don’t anticipate Giannis or Kawhi not showing up, but the Bucks are the deeper team and they have been getting more production out of their guys that aren’t their star. Khris Middleton has been huge along with George Hill and that’s why the Bucks should come into this series as the definite favorites, but you can’t just count out Kawhi Leonard and how good he’s been playing.

Top Photo: Getty Images


Author: Jared Woodcock

I am the founder and owner of Sports Daily Gameday Insight. I am also currently a business student at the University of Oregon

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