8:30 PM EST, TNT – Line: Bucks -2, Over/Under: 216
The Eastern Conference Finals reaches a pivotal juncture as the Two-Seeded Toronto Raptors host the Top-Seeded Milwaukee Bucks with designs of squaring their Series away at Two Games apiece, in Game Four from Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario. For just the second time in these Playoffs, the unrelenting juggernaut that his been the Bucks (60-22, 1st in Eastern Conference) was halted, if only momentarily, as their six-game Postseason Winning Streak came to an end Sunday Night. Before we get into their defeat in Game Three, let’s take a look at how Milwaukee has handled their opponent throughout the previous two entries of this Series. After a lengthy layoff following their Gentleman’s Sweep of the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Mike Budenholzer’s charges came into this matchup with a bit of rust to shake off, lethargically falling behind early, only to eventually put their foot on the gas and rally towards a 108-100 victory in Game One. The hosts trailed by Eleven Points following the First Quarter, and stood behind 76-83 heading into the final frame of play, where they would go on to outscore their counterpart 32-17. In an affair in which both teams struggled in shooting well below 40.0% from the field, but the home side was able to gain an advantage in a number of crucial areas, including Rebounding (60-46), particularly on the offensive end of the floor (15-8), Points in the Paint (44-26), Fast Break Points (25-15), and from the Charity Stripe, where they knocked down 23-of-27 Free-Throws (85.2%) outscoring Toronto by Six Points. MVP Frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.7 PTS, 578.8% FG, 25.6% 3FG, 12.5 REB, 5.9 AST, 1.STL, 1.5 BLK, 30.9 PER) was solid, totaling Twenty-four Points on 7-of-16 shooting (43.8%), Fourteen Rebounds, Six Assists, Two steals, and Three Blocks, but the Supporting Cast played a huge role in this one, with Brook Lopez (12.5 PTS, 45.2% FG, 36.5% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 1.2 AST, 0.6 STL, 2.2 BLK, 14.6 PER) scoring a Playoff Career-High Twenty-Nine Points on 12-of-21 shooting (57.1%), including 4-of-11 from beyond the arc (36.4%), along with Eleven Rebounds and Four Blocks, while a healthy Malcolm Brogdon (15.6 PTS, 50.5% FG, 42.6% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 3.2 AST, 0.7 STL, 17.8 PER) led the Bench with Fifteen Points on 5-of-9 shooting (55.6%), including 3-of-6 from downtown (50.0%). With that said, Game Two required no such rally from the Bucks, who raced out to an early 35-21 lead in the first period en route to a comfortable 125-103 thumping of the Raptors. Milwaukee continued to build upon what worked for them in the previous meeting, bludgeoning Toronto on the glass (Plus-14), including (11-6) on the Offensive Boards, got the Charity Stripe at will (26-of-35 FT, 74.3%), outpaced them in Transition (Plus-9 Fast Break Points), and this time exploited their mistakes, turning Fourteen Turnovers into Nineteen Points, owning a Plus-11 advantage in Points Off Turnovers. Antetokounmpo was far more efficient in this one, logging Thirty Points on 10-of-20 shooting from the floor (50.0%), with Seventeen Rebounds, Five Assists, and a pair of Blocks, while his side’s Bench, which was so productive against Boston, accounted for Fifty-Four Points, with the triumvirate of George Hill (6.8 PTS, 42.8% FG, 28.0% 3FG, 2.6 REB, 2.1 AST, 0.9 STL, 11.6 PER), Ersan Ilyasova (6.8 PTS, 43.8% FG, 36.3% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 0.8 AST, 0.5 STL, 11.6 PER), and the aforementioned Brogdon combining for Forty-Four of that total.
After clearly looking to be the more formidable outfit in the first two games of this Series, things took a turn in Game Three, where despite continuously rallying back time and again, the Bucks came up short in a 112-118 loss that required two overtimes to claim a victor. Offensively, Milwaukee resembled themselves from the first installment of this Eastern Conference Final, shooting just 37.3% from the field, including 14-of-44 from beyond the arc (31.8%), though despite their shooting struggles managed to continue to flex their muscles in those same areas the have throughout this Series. Budenholzers’ troops battered their opponent once more on the glass (63-55) and in the Paint (Plus-10), while thriving in Transition where they outscored the hosts 29-18. Through the first three contests they’ve amassed quite the advantage in these respective categories; the East’s No. One Seed is Plus-35 in Rebounding, including Plus-17 in Offensive Rebounding, Plus-26 in Points in the Paint, and Plus-30 in Fast Break Points. However, they ultimately gave Game Three in two areas in which they’ve previously owned; Turnovers and Free-Throws. The visiting side was inexplicably sloppy on Sunday Night, and paid for it dearly, committing Twenty Turnovers which were parlayed into Twenty-One Points, while also missing Eleven Free-Throws (22-of-33, 66.7%), which in a game that saw a pair of Overtimes proved to be all the difference. Furthermore, despite the Bench once again producing above their pay grade (54 Points), the Starting Five was decisively less so. Antetokounmpo struggled mightily, scoring just Twelve Points on a dreadful 5-of-16 shooting (31.3%), racking up more Turnovers (8) than Assists (7), while the likes of Khris Middleton (18.3 PTS, 44.1% FG, 37.8% 3FG, 6.0 REB, 4.3 AST, 1.0 STL, 16.5 PER) and Eric Bledsoe (15.9 PTS, 48.4% FG, 32.9% 3FG, 4.6 REB, 5.5 AST, 1.5 STL, 0.4 BLK, 19.3 PER), who are this team’s second and third most important figures, continued their struggles, combining for a scant Twenty Points on a miserable 6-of-32 shooting (18.8%), including 2-of-12 from deep (16.7%), and Eight Turnovers. These two in particular were such a big component of their success in the Eastern Semifinals, but have been altogether abysmal in this matchup with the Raptors, averaging a cumulative 20.0 Points on 28.4% shooting overall. Depth has been this team’s calling card in these Playoffs, but at some point the Bucks will need their higher-profile players to start contributing in positive manner, otherwise the tables could turn in this Series rather quickly.
Meanwhile, survival was the word of the night for the Raptors (58-24, 2nd in Eastern Conference) after their epic 118-112 victory in Game Three of this Eastern Conference Final, which needed a pair of Overtimes to accomplish. After getting pummeled over the course of the first two meetings of this Series, Toronto has managed to avoid falling into a three-game hole, which would surely have spelled and extinction-level event for this team. Perhaps their previous seven-game war with the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals took a great deal out of them, for apart from the First Quarter of Game One, Nick Nurse’s charges have been at the mercy of their opponents, at least throughout the first two contests. As we detailed earlier, they squandered an early advantage in Game One’s 100-108 defeat, before ultimately running out of gas in the latter stages of that affair, and two nights later never were ran out of Fiserv Forum in a 103-125 drubbing. In both of those contests, the Raptors struggled to get much of anything going offensively, shooting a terrible 39.7% from the field, including just 33.8% from beyond the arc. Furthermore, as happened at varying points of the Series with the Sixers, they simply couldn’t manufacture enough ball-movement to create easy looks, instead relying on the exploits of Kawhi Leonard (26.6 PTS, 49.6% FG, 37.1% 3FG, 7.3 REB, 3.3 AST, 1.8 STL, 0.4 BLK, 25.8 PER), who ultimately won them the Series with an instant-class walk-off fadeaway to win Game Seven. Through the first two games, Toronto has managed just Thirty-Six Assists (18.0 A/G) in comparison Twenty-Five Turnovers (12.5 T/G), which equates to a poor 1.44 Assist/Turnover Ratio. And speaking of Leonard, the soon-to-be Unrestricted Free Agent continued to be the driving force on the offensive end in those meetings, scoring Thirty-One Points apiece on 45.5% shooting from the field, though his Supporting Cast was far from reliable. In Game One, Kyle Lowry (14.2 PTS, 41.1% FG, 34.7% 3FG, 4.8 REB, 8.7 AST, 1.4 STL, 0.5 BLK, 16.5 PER), who has historically laid many an egg in the Playoffs, put forth one of his strongest performances, scoring Thirty Points on 10-of-15 shooting (66.7%), including 7-of-9 from long-range (77.8%), though followed it up with Fifteen Points in Game Two, netting just 4-of-13 attempts (30.8%). Pascal Siakam (16.9 PTS, 54.9% FG, 36.9% 3FG, 6.9 REB, 3.1 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.7 BLK, 18.7 PER), arguably the frontrunner for the league’s Most Improved Player, was most invisible, accounting for a scant Twenty-Three Points on 34.5% shooting in the first entries of this Series, even fouling out of the latter, Marc Gasol (9.1 PTS, 46.5% FG, 44.2% 3FG, 6.6 REB, 3.9 AST, 0.9 STL, 0.9 BLK, 16.0 PER), who Toronto acquired via trade midseason specifically with the Playoffs in mind, came up far shorter than his 7′-1″, 255 lb frame would suggest, totaling just Eight Points on 3-of-20 shooting overall (15.0%). Oh, and the Bench? Well, it’s not like Nurse has counted too much on his Reserves during these Playoffs, but they were greatly outplayed by their counterparts, with Milwaukee outscoring them by Twenty-Five in those two meetings.
With the possibility of starting down the barrel of a 0-3 deficit in this Series, the Raptors needed every advantage they could manage in order to survive Game Three’s marathon-esque 118-112 victory. Despite picking up a knee injury that clearly left him looking uncomfortable for long stretches of action, the aforementioned Leonard, once again put his team on his back, scoring Thirty-Six Points on 11-of-25 shooting (44.0%), including Eight in the second Overtime, along with Nine Rebounds, Five Assists, Two Steals, and a Block in what can only be described as a desperately herculean effort the former NBA Finals MVP. Though they continued to shoot the basketball poorly (39.2%), there were a number of things that occurred in this affair that should give the home side and their faithful hope moving forward. For the first time in this Series, the Supporting Cast showed up in unison, with Siakam and Gasol fulfilling the roles they had during their leadup to this Series, with the former logging Twenty-Five Points on 9-of-18 shooting (50.0%), Eleven Rebounds, an Assist, Three Steals, and a Block, while the latter added Sixteen Points on 5-of-10 shooting (50.0%), Twelve Rebounds, Seven Assists, a Steal, and a Five Blocks. Norman Powell (8.6 PTS, 48.3% FG, 40.0% 3FG, 2.3 REB, 15 AST, 0.7 STL, 13.3 PER) also chimed in with Nineteen Points off the Bench on 7-of-13 shooting (53.8%). Three-Point Shooting was a huge advantage for the hosts, drilling 17-of-45 attempts from beyond the arc (37.8%), outscoring them Nine Points in Game Three. However, the biggest change Sunday came on the defensive end of the court, where for the first time in this Series, Nurse’s troops forced their opponent to adjust to what they were doing. The Head Coach desperately switched Leonard onto Antetokounmpo for long stretches of action, with the two-time Defensive Player of Year vexing the MVP candidate throughout the affair. The home side’s defensive pressure caused havoc for Milwaukee, turning them over on twenty occasions, affording them the luxury of getting some easier opportunities in transition.