Say what you will about the Toronto Raptors and doubting their chances come Playoff time with the absence of a gravitational star like Kawhi Leonard, but they are following up last season’s Championship with a year to remember. Right now, they represent the second seed in the Eastern Conference and a team Milwaukee hasn’t faced since the sixth game of the season. The Bucks are coming off a thrilling OT dub over the Wizards and the Raptors are fresh off tearing the Pacers apart. This one should be fun.
For three quarters, it seemed like a relatively nondescript, it difficult to watch execution-wise, win against a middling East team for the Bucks. Then Bradley Beal erupted. Khris Middleton player the role of hero for Milwaukee against the Wiz with Giannis fouled out (still had 22 and 14 in 25 minutes). After a cold stretch to start OT, Middleton scored the final nine points in the 137-134 win. His 40 minutes certainly looked to be wearing on him by the game’s end, and whether the extended game factors into a sluggish performance for the Bucks back-to-back remains to be seen. Given Giannis’ frustrations, you can bet he will be rearing to go for this contest.
We have to wait for the first injury report to come out, but I would bet that Kyle Korver is the only guy out for Milwaukee and Brook Lopez will return.
Player to Watch: Eric Bledsoe
Bledsoe was a massive reason the Bucks still won in Washington, going for 23 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds on a tidy 7-11. He’s the man who needs to match Kyle Lowry’s output for this game, perhaps not scoring-wise, but at least in terms of defensive intensity to disrupt the Raptor guard’s offensive flow. Bledsoe should be able to try and probe Toronto’s defense, but they will be more than happy to experiment with big men on him a la last year’s Playoff series. That helped turn the tide, and Bledsoe may have to nail a couple triples to get Nick Nurse’s defense to respect his shooting.
Despite the fact I regrettably have not let the grudge I hold against Toronto go after last year’s Playoff defeat, I can’t argue with their unbridled success this season. Nurse is never afraid to get wild with his lineups and schemes, and even with major injuries to most of their top-flight guys throughout the year, they’re still on pace for a 58-win season. That’s partly due to the emergence of Pascal Siakam, but plenty of their role players from Norman Powell to O.G. Anunoby and Fred VanVleet have all taken steps forward to fill the void left by The Claw. Their defense is downright freaky. They’ve got the second-best mark in the league behind the Bucks, and this one could come down to a slugfest if neither team finds themselves in a hot streak from beyond the arc.
Milwaukee prevailed in the first matchup at Fiserv Forum 115-105, even as the Raptors rode a 41.7% percent night from beyond the arc on 15 makes. The difference, as per usual, was Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had a monster night with 36 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists. Well, it seemed monstrous at the time, but as the season has gone on, I guess it’s mostly the status quo? Eric Bledsoe was the next highest scorer at 14, but it was balanced scoring beyond that.
Marc Gasol and Normal Powell are out for this one, with Patrick McCaw questionable.
Player to Watch: Pascal Siakam
Siakam struggled in that first game, going just 7-19 from the field as Milwaukee’s interior defense stifled his inside game. He was just 5-13 inside the arc and relied on Lowry’s hot shooting to keep the team in it. He’ll be angling for a redemptive performance in this one, particularly as Giannis got the better of him the first time around.
Game 58: Against Toronto, the Bucks will...
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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)