As the old saying goes, a series ain’t a series until the road team wins a game. As it happens, the Milwaukee Bucks are trekking across the border in an attempt to make it a series against the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Of course, after coming back late in Game 1 and blowing way up in Game 2, the Bucks are largely considered favorites to take the series and earn a ticket to compete for the championship. Game 3 will be a major indicator of whether that will happen...and how quickly.
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps came out with an article that both perfectly encapsulates the national opinion of these Milwaukee Bucks and with the headline precisely trolls Toronto with a Drake album title.
For months, it has been assumed the Warriors will waltz to another title. With the Bucks now two wins away from the NBA Finals, it is time for that thinking to change. https://t.co/16t0ImIvZ9— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) May 18, 2019
Now, after not only surviving a shaky showing in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, but throttling the Raptors from start to finish in Game 2, it’s time to stop repeatedly asking if these Bucks are for real, but to instead wonder why it has taken so long for everyone else to acknowledge it.
In some respects, the doubts about these Bucks were exceedingly normal. The last time this franchise won a playoff series, Antetokounmpo was 6 years old and living in Athens, Greece. The Bucks have exited the playoffs in first-round losses in three of the past four seasons, and only one player in their regular rotation -- reserve guard George Hill -- has any NBA Finals experience.
Teams don’t typically skip steps in the NBA playoffs. They certainly don’t normally leap over them. Yet that is precisely what the Bucks seem to be doing.
Cue Bucks fans saying, “...Yeah. We know.”
On the health front, Milwaukee is missing no major contributors due to injury; D.J. Wilson returned for garbage time in Game 2, while Pau Gasol and Donte DiVincenzo still remain sidelined.
Player to Watch: Eric Bledsoe
It hasn’t been too much of a problem, but the Bledshow has been struggling to score consistently so far against Toronto. The lanes being exploited by Giannis Antetokounmpo just haven’t been there for Bledsoe, and his oft-wayward shot has not consistently found the mark in this series.
Of course, Bledsoe has found other ways to add value. His defense is still dynamic, and he showed off some nifty playmaking by dribbling low and deep into the lane to set up Giannis for point-blank shots. Thanks to Milwaukee’s depth (George Hill and Malcolm Brogdon can each take on some of Bledsoe’s role), the Bucks aren’t relying on Bledsoe to win the series, but it sure would be nice for him to find his groove before the Bucks potentially start their next one.
What do you do?
“...— Mitchell Maurer (@Mitchell_NBA) May 18, 2019
...ah hell, I don’t know.”
-Nick Nurse, probably
Seriously, after letting Game 1 slip away and being thoroughly outplayed in Game 2, what can you do differently if you’re Toronto? Our SBNation sister site RaptorsHQ has some ideas, but if you ask Kawhi Leonard...
“Where do you go from here?”— Yahoo Sports Canada (@YahooCASports) May 18, 2019
Kawhi: “I’m going to Toronto for Game 3” pic.twitter.com/DLNPPDTKDj
As has been the case, OG Anunoby remains out while recovering from an appendectomy, and Patrick McCaw is questionable. Kyle Lowry is not currently listed on any injury reports, but he aggravated his left hand injury in Game 2 and may be hindered somewhat if it flares up again.
Player to Watch: Marc Gasol
He was alright in the first game, but on Friday night Gasol was nigh unplayable. It was evident from the first few minutes that he just didn’t have it, and whatever Toronto thought he had was not happening. From RaptorsHQ:
We’ve been saying it for most of this Raptors post-season run, when Toronto gets the good stuff from players like Gasol (and Green, and Lowry, and Ibaka, etc.) they look absolutely unbelievable. When the big Spaniard was shutting down Nikola Vucevic, we cheered; when he was the lone man to slow Embiid, we were pleased; even when he helped wall off the paint in Game 1 against the Bucks, we knew Gasol was doing his job.
But now the gas tank may be running on empty, and unless Toronto can figure out a way to imbue their starting centre with some new confidence — on both ends of the floor — this could be a short series for Gasol. And for the Raptors too.
Is Marc Gasol going to keep starting against Lopez, or will Nick Nurse swap him out for Serge Ibaka? Is there somehow a solution where Pascal Siakam takes over at center? We can’t be sure, but nothing can be off the table if you’re the Raptors, if Gasol doesn’t get it together.
Game 3: Against the Raptors, the Bucks will...
This poll is closed
Win big (by 10 or more points)
Win close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose close (by 9 or fewer points)
Lose big (by 10 or more points)