The Eastern Conference Finals are underway between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors, and Brew Hoop was lucky enough to get a chance to speak with TNT’s Kristen Ledlow. Kristen has been covering the NBA since 2013, giving her a firm understanding of where the two Eastern Conference Finalists are at, and since she happens to also be a wonderful human who is generous with her time, we managed to ask her some questions. Enjoy, and be sure to tune in to TNT for the rest of their NBA Playoffs coverage.
Mitchell Maurer: The Bucks are seeing a lot more national attention lately, as having “arrived” or should “actually be taken seriously,” whereas on the local level people kind of took them seriously more earlier in the season when they were ripping off big wins on a consistent basis. From your perspective, have there been any other teams in your time covering the league that have also been unheralded, or maybe should have been “seen coming” sooner?
Kristen Ledlow: It’s interesting because the local media gets the opportunity to see their local team on a daily basis, so it takes a while to rewrite the national perspective of the NBA. For years now we’ve been all in on LeBron James, or the Golden State Warriors, and the assumption is that at the end of the season those are going to beat the teams and players that are still standing.
It took a long time for the Warriors to create that idea, that they were a team that every single year would be the team to beat. Stephen Curry, even as a back-to-back MVP, was for a stretch of the season was perhaps looking at the end of his career, dead in the face, so it takes a while to rewrite the national perspective, or the story that we’re telling with the NBA from season to season, and I think that because local media gets the opportunity to see the team on a daily basis and are privy to information, and perhaps sold on how good a team can be earlier on in the rest of us who first of all are not following that team every single day, and second of all have not accepted that team perhaps into the national conversation yet so I do think that that’s something we team with the Milwaukee Bucks perhaps because they have a superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, an MVP Finalist, just a couple of days ago told me that he’s not concerned about that right now so when you don’t have “the flashy superstar,” when you’re not playing the game in a way that perhaps makes highlights or headlines, but instead you’re winning consistently and quietly I think it takes a little bit longer to to break onto the national scene.
MM: That makes a lot of sense, and I appreciate that you do the parallel between Giannis and Steph Curry, because they both took obviously very different tracks to the league in the first place. They both were drafted outside the top-tier picks, and were thought of as, at least with Steph, somebody who’s gonna be pretty good, but nobody thought is going to be this good, and even more so for Giannis. Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, but how do you think of those two storylines will match up, if we do see the two teams that currently have the lead in their respective Conference Finals meet in the Finals? Is the story going to be Steph verses Giannis?
KL: I sat down with Giannis yesterday morning, and I asked him if he’d allow his mind yet just think about what an NBA Finals trip would mean to the franchise, and he was absolutely clear that he’s taking this series a day at a time, that he’s making adjustments from day to day to beat the Raptors, but that it is something that’s in the back of his mind on a daily basis. I mentioned that his team had success against the Warriors earlier this season, and he laughed he said, “I would not call that success, beating the Warriors at Oracle Arena when Steph Curry is injured.” But yeah, I think that those two are really special, but you have intriguing storylines no matter which way things turn out.
MM: Now, it would not be fair to the Toronto Raptors, who’re legitimately good in their own right, to overlook them, and one of the storylines that we’re seeing in the current series is Milwaukee’s abundance of depth compared to the lack thereof for the Raptors. Do you think that the storyline of the “depth versus no depth” is overblown, or is that actually a fair way to look at how this series is going?
KL: I think it’s a fair way to look at the way that the series has gone. To have your superstar play over 50 minutes in a double overtime game and ask him to do it again forty-eight hours later is almost unfair to a Raptors team at that boasted its depth throughout the regular season, but has not seen it all players step up as needed yet this postseason. But I did talk to Coach Nurse yesterday after Game 3, and he said that “Our team has played really poorly in four different games this postseason, and throughout the other games we look like a team that’s pretty damn hard to beat.” Coach Nurse is really harping on these days in between games that is that it’s not just about Kawhi Leonard stepping up, it’s not just about Kyle Lowry, it’s relying on guys like Marc Gasol (who took ownership for the Game Two loss which helps set the tone), it’s expecting more from guys like Danny Green, and you look at what it took to beat a Bucks team that didn’t play its best on your home court, so I do think that’s a fair way to look at the series.
Our interview got cut short, but Kristen was awesome enough to offer to answer a few more after Game 4 tonight in Toronto. Be sure to check out the impromptu Part II later, as well as the NBA on TNT tonight!