Nick Ballistreri previews Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals where the Raptors are looking to bounce back against the Bucks.
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The Milwaukee Bucks defeated the Toronto Raptors 108-100 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Raptors will head into Game 2 feeling confident they can salvage a split in Milwaukee after playing the Bucks tough for 48 minutes. On Draftkings Sportsbook, the Bucks are listed as -6.5 favorites, and -286 on the moneyline, while the Raptors are +240 on the moneyline.
The Raptors came out with their guns blazing, looking primed and ready to steal Game 1 on the road, taking an 11 point lead after the first. Things continued to go the Raptors way, as the trifecta of Kawhi Leonard, Kyle Lowry, and Pascal Siakam kept their offense humming. After a Leonard layup off of a beautiful backdoor cut midway through the 3rd gave the Raptors a 10 point lead, the crowd at Fiserv Forum began to come to grips with a potential Game 1 loss at home.
On the back of MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, with some help from 7-foot sharpshooter Brook Lopez, the Bucks stormed back in the 4th. This was a classic coming out party for Brook Lopez on a huge stage. Known as more of a back to the basket scorer, Lopez attempted a total of 7 3-pointers through his first 6 seasons in the league. Noticing the league was trending more outside, then head coach, Kenny Atkinson, decided it was time for Lopez to change his game. He is now a bonafide 3-point threat.
With the Bucks trailing by 7 heading into the 4th, they needed a spark. Lopez, who hit four 3’s in the game, already had 2 in the 4th. With the Bucks fighting back to regain a 1 point lead with a little over a minute, Giannis drove to the lane and was met by a wall of defenders. Thinking quickly, he looked out to his left, and saw Lopez open. The pass was low, but Lopez caught it, gathered, and hit the biggest 3 of the game. If he wasn’t wearing a Bucks jersey, I would’ve thought it was Klay Thompson shooting. He hit the dagger, Bucks take Game 1, and don’t do it without Lopez.
Lopez finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds, and Antetokounmpo finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds. The Bucks dominated this one on the glass, finishing with a 60-46 rebounding advantage. The Bucks got huge contributions from the bench, namely Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon, who missed the final 15 regular season games with a foot injury, has returned in a huge way for the Bucks at the perfect time. He finished with 15 points, and a team-high +18 in the box score.
The Raptors were lead by Leonard’s 31 points, and had a huge contribution from Kyle Lowry, who had 30 points and 7 3’s, and was an integral piece in the Raptors hot start. The Raptors will look back on this as wasting Lowry’s big game, as he has had his fair share of struggles but came through in a big way in this one.
The Raptors bench had their struggles, finishing with only 12 points. When playing a team as deep as the Bucks, the Raptors have to at least get some contributions from their bench squad. Serge Ibaka, in particular, was almost unplayable, finishing with only 4 points and a team-low -17 in plus-minus. It will be interesting to see how Raptors coach Nick Nurse adjusts to the minutes and rotations going forward.
Game 2 is a huge game for Toronto. Going down 2-0 against a team of Milwaukee’s caliber is a deathblow to their chances. The Raptors are going to need more good games from the likes of Lowry and Siakam to have a chance, as well as a much better effort from their bench.
Game 1 was a huge missed opportunity for them. They got a very solid effort from Lowry, and the Bucks, a normally sharpshooting team, only shot 25% (11-44) from 3. A couple more of those shots fall and we’re talking about a Game 1 blowout as opposed to a squeaker. However, that being said, I see a lot of value in taking 6.5 points for the Raptors. Coach Nick Nurse employed a solid defensive strategy against Giannis in Game 1, and the Raptors now know they can compete with the Bucks. Expect this confidence to roll over into Game 2, and an improved effort from the bench, to keep this game close. I’m not confident enough in picking the Raptors outright, so take the points and feel confident in doing so.