Toronto Raptors (0-0) @ Milwaukee Bucks (0-0)
When: Wednesday, May 15th, 8:30 P.M. ET
Where: Fiserv Forum
Leading into tonight’s game:
– Injury report: For the Raptors, OG Anunoby (appendectomy) and Jordan Loyd (coach’s decision) are listed as out. Chris Boucher (back spasms) is listed as probable. For the Bucks, Donte DiVincenzo (Bilateral heel bursitis), Pau Gasol (left foot surgery) and D.J. Wilson (left ankle sprain) are all listed as out.
– Introducing Round 3: The Raptors will begin the Eastern Conference Finals in Milwaukee for Games 1 and 2 of their best-of-seven series against the Bucks. This is just the second time in franchise history that the Raptors have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals, returning for the first time since facing the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. The Bucks have homecourt advantage in this series as the only team in the NBA to finish with a better regular-season record (60-22) than the Raptors (58-24).
– Recent history: The Raptors face the Bucks after a thrilling seven-game series against the Philadelphia 76ers that was decided by a four-bounce game-winning buzzer-beater from Kawhi Leonard in Game 7. Though the Raptors enter Wednesday’s game after Leonard became the first player to ever hit a game-winning buzzer-beater in Game 7 of a best-of-seven series, the team has shifted focus to Wednesday’s matchup with the Bucks. “You’ve got to stay even-keeled in this league,” Leonard said. While the Raptors closed out their series against the Sixers on Sunday, the Bucks have been resting in Milwaukee after defeating the Boston Celtics in five games last Wednesday. This year’s matchup between the Raptors and Bucks will be the second time these two teams have faced off in the playoffs, with the Raptors winning a first-round series 4-2 in 2017. For this year’s regular-season series, the Bucks held a 3-1 record, winning twice in Toronto and once on their home floor. The most recent meeting between the two teams came back in January, when the Bucks defeated the Raptors 105-92 behind a 19-point, nine-rebound, five-assist, four-steal performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Raptors were led by 28 points from Pascal Siakam and 16 points and eight rebounds from Kawhi Leonard in the loss.
– Welcome to the team: One thing to keep in mind concerning regular-season meetings between these teams is that all four meetings took place in advance of the trade deadline. Though the Bucks traded for guard George Hill in December, Milwaukee also added Nikola Mirotic, Pau Gasol and Tim Frazier to their roster since then. Toronto has also made significant changes to their team since that final meeting against the Bucks on Jan. 31, bringing in Marc Gasol, Jeremy Lin, Jodie Meeks and Eric Moreland while parting ways with Jonas Valanciunas, C.J. Miles, Delon Wright and Greg Monroe.
– Star sightings: While Kawhi Leonard has been having an all-time great showing in the postseason, averaging 31.8 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.3 steals per game while shooting 54 percent from the floor and 41 percent from three, Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has also been starring in the playoffs. Antetokounmpo is averaging 27.4 points, 11.3 rebounds, 4.4 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks per game, while shooting 53 percent from the floor and 32 percent from beyond the arc. Leonard knows many eyes will be on the two All-Stars, but he is quick to remind everyone that this series isn’t about any one player. “It’s not about us going head-to-head,” Leonard said. “It’s about trying to win the game. You can’t get caught up in people’s expectations. You’ve got to worry about self-expectations, team expectations, and that’s winning. That’s what we have to focus on. It doesn’t matter about a one-on-one matchup. This game isn’t a one-on-one basketball game.”
– Five-man effort: Though any game or series isn’t about just one player, figuring out how to handle Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of the to-do list when facing the Bucks. Raptors head coach Nick Nurse spoke to the specific challenges Antetokounmpo presents when he talked with media on Tuesday morning in advance of Game 1. “Obviously he’s an overpowering type player,” Nurse said. “With his size and now his strength, his speed and then his array of kind of moving up the floor. He’s got the speed dribble, the shoulder hits…So the challenge…We’ve] got to try to slow him down in transition, which is more than a one-person job. Probably a five-person job. The guys that are out there have to build walls and build them early so that the freight train doesn’t get going too fast.” Nurse went on to praise his team’s defensive effort in the postseason where the Raptors have held opponents under 100 points in nine of 12 games played.