The Bucks have secured the 6th seed in the Eastern conference and will face the 3rd seeded Toronto Raptors (51-31). The Raptors will host the first game of the best-of-7 series starting this Saturday. The Bucks lost the season series to the Raps 3-1, with the lone win coming with Kyle Lowry out. The Bucks have had an up and down season, but had a great March (14-4) to get back in the playoff hunt. The Bucks are now looking to get their young core playoff experience, and perhaps even catch a team off guard.
Bucks Paint Scoring
The Bucks are first in the league in percentage of points scored in the paint. The Raptors are the 10th best paint defense in the league. While they lack a traditional rim-protector, Serge Ibaka has been a solid one (for a power-forward) in the past and Jonas Valanciunas will present a big obstacle to scoring. The Bucks are a great finishing team though, they have length and athleticism to finish around contests. Whoever wins this battle will go a long ways towards deciding the series.
Bucks Scoring off Turnovers
The Raptors have the 5th lowest turnover rate in the league and as a result give up the 7th lowest amount points off turnovers in the league. The Bucks score 16.7% of their points off opponent turnovers good for 3rd most in the league, they are also 9th in the league at forcing turnovers. If the Raptors can keep the Bucks in the half court and avoiding turning it over they have a very good chance to win the series.
Raptors Getting to the Line
Toronto gets 18.4% of their points at the free-throw line 3rd highest in the league meanwhile, the Bucks are 18th in opponent free throw rate. The Raptors backcourt duo of Derozan and Lowry both get to the line at very good rates. Derozan is 5th in the league in free throw attempts per game, with Lowry a not too distant 18th. In the playoffs the game tends to slow down and the refs call a tighter game, if the Bucks can avoid fouling Toronto could struggle to score.
Tony Snell on Demar Derozan
Snell will likely garner the majority of minutes on Derozan, the 3&D specialist will try and use his length and lateral quickness to pester Derozan. We have seen Derozan struggle against athletic man defense in past series (see Paul George last year). If you can stick on Derozan without fouling you can force him to try and make tough shots. Derozan is a tough shot maker, but no coach is going to feel comfortable with that being a sizable chunk of their offense.
Bucks “Center” on Jonas Valanciunas
Valanciunas is a matchup nightmare for the Bucks, he is an antique of a past generation being a massive bodied post-up center. The Bucks might have to guard him with Monroe, but this opens up holes elsewhere on the defense. I have doubts that Maker or Henson can guard Jonas in the post, but Jonas will struggle on them on the other end as well, especially if Thon can draw him out of the paint.
Malcolm Brogdon vs Kyle Lowry
Their games are remarkably similar, but Lowry is one of the best point guards in the league. Lowry at 30 is having a career year when he has been healthy, with an absurd 62% true shooting rate. Brogdon will need to lock in on defense and try and keep with Lowry. Half of Lowry’s shots come from outside the 3pt arc, and he is a knockdown shooter out there. On the other end of the court Lowry is no slouch either and will make it difficult for Brogdon once he crosses the half court line. The Bucks will need Brogdon to compete his heart out on both ends to win this series, Lowry is the second best player in the series and need to be slowed down at all costs.
P.J. Tucker / DeMarre Carroll on Giannis Antetokounmpo
For the Bucks to be competitive this series they need Giannis to be the best player on the court. I expect the Raptors to guard Giannis with some combination of Tucker and Carroll, but would not be shocked to see Serge Ibaka guard Giannis for long periods of time. I think Giannis can feast in the post on the former two, but would need to try and blow by Ibaka. If Giannis can get going in the paint early and often, forcing the Raptors to foul it could swing the outcome of a game in a hurry. Giannis can also wreak havoc on defense creating turnovers for the Bucks to thrive in transition.
Series Prediction: Bucks in six games
I think the Bucks can win this, I believe this is the moment Kidd silences his doubters. Giannis and Middleton will both have big series on both ends, but Giannis will have a coming out party in the Air Canada Centre. I believe the Bucks will steal one of the first two games on the road and then win the series in Game 6 in Milwaukee. Toronto has struggled in the playoffs and I am convinced part of it is how their play style translates into the playoffs. If the Bucks can win the majority of the aforementioned battles, the Cream City will taste their first playoff series win in over a decade.
Series MVP: Giannis Antetokoumnpo
Giannis will show why analysts are calling him the best player in this series and the most promising young player in the league. Giannis is no longer, ifs & somedays, Giannis is a force in 2017. Giannis is future MVP and has put this team on his back throughout the year. I am looking forward to seeing playoff Giannis take it to a whole ‘nother level.