It’s official: Milwaukee has secured the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference, and will take on the third seeded Toronto Raptors.
The Bucks had their first winning season since the 2009-2010 season, and managed to avoid the Cavaliers and the Celtics in the first round.
However, the Raptors were a problem for Milwaukee in the regular season, as they took three out of four games. With Kyle Lowry back from his wrist injury, Toronto has a dominant one-two punch that Milwaukee failed to stop all season. With both Lowry and DeMar DeRozen in the lineup, Toronto beat Milwaukee all three games this season.
It is difficult to predict the outcome of this series based on the regular season, due to the injuries that both teams have dealt with, and how much improvement Milwaukee has undergone since last playing Toronto. Lowry and DeRozen both missed at least one of the regular season games, Middleton missed the first three games, and Jabari Parker participated in the first three games, showing that Milwaukee has come a long way since January 27th, which was the last time the Bucks lost to the Raptors.
Defensively, Milwaukee and Toronto are very similar, as both are in the top ten in points allowed per game. On the other hand, the Raptors’ offensive numbers are substantially higher than the Bucks.
Toronto averages over three points per game more than Milwaukee, and are top five in the league in team plus minus at +4.1.
Playoff experience is another aspect of Milwaukee’s game that could be exploited. Just look at their starting lineup: Brogdon and Maker are both rookies, Antetokounmpo and Middleton have never won a series, and Tony Snell has never played significant minutes in a playoff game. Toronto, on the other hand, has made the playoffs three years in a row, including a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals last season, so their key players know how to win in April.
Individual matchups are always key in playoff games, especially because these two teams will be squaring off against each other anywhere from four to seven times in the next few weeks. Check out how the Bucks fair in each potential matchup.
Brogdon vs. Lowry
Despite Malcolm Brogdon’s impressive rookie season, Kyle Lowry is an All-Star level point guard, and has been tested in the playoffs before. The Bucks will rely on Brogdon to be a general on the offensive end, but defensively, he will have a hard time matching up against Lowry, even though he’s likely the Bucks’ best option to do so. Lowry puts up 22.6 points, 7.0 assists and 1.5 steals per game, all of which are substantially higher than Brogdon’s stats. While Milwaukee clearly struggles to win without Brogdon, it’s unlikely he can play a big enough role to outplay a great player like Lowry.
Snell vs. DeRozen
It is very likely that both Middleton and Snell will take a stab at guarding DeRozen, but position wise, these are the two shooting guards for the respective teams. DeRozen is having a career year, averaging 27.3 points per game, which is top five in the league. He is one of the best in the league at getting to the line and hitting the pull-up mid range shot. Pair that with his insane dunking abilities, and it’s understandable why no team can slow him down. Middleton and Snell are both lengthy and athletic guards, but stopping DeRozen is a task that virtually no team has been able to do for one game, let alone an entire series. If Snell can hold DeRozen from dominating the series, and hit a few threes of his own, that would be a success in its own for the Bucks, but there is no way that Tony Snell outplays DeMar DeRozen in a seven game series.
Middleton vs. Carroll
Between Carroll and P.J. Tucker, the Raptors have two of the top perimeter defenders in the league. It would be surprising if one of those two wasn’t matched up with Giannis for an extended period of time, however, the other will likely be guarding Middleton. Carroll has been known to be a solid shooter throughout his career, but he’s shooting just 34 percent from deep this season, the worst he’s shot since he played for the Jazz in 2012. He isn’t a huge offensive contributor, scoring just nine points per game. Middleton, on the other hand, will be a key factor for Milwaukee if they want to take this series. He is averaging around 15 points per game and is shooting around 43 percent from three. For the Bucks to have a chance, he will need to produce more on the offensive end, because the Raptors will likely focus on stopping the Greek Freak. Middleton has the ability to hit tough shots, and seems to be the most composed player on the court for this young Bucks team, giving him the advantage over Carroll.
Antetokounmpo vs. Ibaka
Serge Ibaka provides the Raptors with a great rim protector and a solid stretch four. However, if the Raptors keep him on Giannis for an extended period of time (which is unlikely), they will be in for a rough time. Ibaka averages around 15 points per game, and will likely have Giannis on him for a lot of the game, which should be a good matchup for the Bucks’ lengthy All-Star. Antetokounmpo may be the best player on the court in this series; however, he will have to prove that by performing at the same level he has all year, as regular season statistics mean nothing in the playoffs if you can’t back them up. Antetokounmpo is the first player ever to finish top 20 in all five major statistical categories, and led the Bucks in those same five areas. If Antetokounpo can shine in the spotlight, the Bucks could take this series, however, if he folds under the pressure, Milwaukee’s supporting cast likely won’t be able to pick up the slack.
Monroe vs. Valancuinas
While Thon Maker is the starter, he rarely plays more than 15 minutes per game, and likely won’t in the playoffs either. Outside of Antetokounmpo, Monroe has probably been the Bucks’ most consistent player this season, averaging 11.8 points per game and shooting 53.5 percent on the season. While Valancuinas hasn’t scored more than 20 points in a game in over a month, he consistently puts up double digit scoring outings, and provides Toronto with a big body inside. He is more skilled than Monroe on the defensive end, and isn’t relied on as heavily on the offensive end, even though he puts up better numbers than Monroe.
Milwaukee Bench vs. Toronto Bench
Milwaukee fans will be happy to see that Terrance Ross no longer is on the bench of the Raptors (he scored 25 points against Milwaukee in December). But Toronto still has plenty of depth to work with. Tucker, Corey Joseph, Patrick Patterson and Norman Powell account for over 30 points per game alone, and all of these players have playoff experience in their back pocket. The Bucks’ bench has been inconsistent all season. Dellavedova struggles to keep up defensively with most every guard in the league, Teletovic is one of the streakiest players in the league, and Henson has had a disappointing season to say the least. Milwaukee will rely on Beasley and Terry off the bench as veteran players on the court. But Toronto’s depth far outweighs anything Milwaukee can throw at them, and bench scoring could be an aspect of this series that makes or breaks the Bucks season.
Photo Courtesy of: ESPN