Prediction, Preview, and Odds
#511 Milwaukee Bucks 213 vs.
#512 Toronto Raptors -140
Saturday, May 25, 2019 at 8:30pm EDT
Scotiabank Arena, Toronto
Written by Chris Altruda

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#511 Milwaukee
#512 Toronto
70-26
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117
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Milwaukee Bucks at Toronto Raptors

When and Where: Saturday, May 25, Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, Ont., 8:30 p.m. EDT.

Having wrested control of the Eastern Conference finals by dealing the Milwaukee Bucks their first three-game losing streak of the season, Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors get their one chance at home to close out the series in Game 6 on Saturday night to reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.

Bucks bench goes missing for second straight game

One reason the Bucks won 60 games in the regular season and 10 of their first 11 in the postseason was a productive bench that averaged 31.8 points in the regular season and upped that mark to 36.1 per game in the playoffs.

In the last three games, however, it has been the Raptors who have re-discovered their “bench mob” from last season — a key component in how they won a club-record 59 games and finished one shy of that mark in 2018-19.

In the last two games, Milwaukee’s reserves have been outscored 83-38, shooting just 35 percent (14 for 40) overall and 5 for 21 from 3-point range. George Hill has been the only consistent source of offense — he had 12 of the 15 bench points in Game 5 — and Nikola Mirotic has struggled to find his perimeter stroke all series, going 0 for 3 from beyond the arc Thursday night and 0 for 4 overall.

“They’ve done a good job guarding the three for this series,” said Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon, who made his first postseason start and totaled 18 points, 11 rebounds, and six assists. “We’re arguably the best three-point shooting team in the league and they’ve done a good even limiting our attempts. We’ve got to figure out ways to get the ball moving and to have open shots.”

The Raptors again flustered MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo, holding the All-Star to a quiet 24 points as he went 9 for 18 from the field and missed 5 of 9 free throws. While there were some wrinkles in Milwaukee’s offense — Antetokounmpo did see the ball wider than at the top of the key and he did hit a pair of 3-pointers — the “Greek Freak” was again flustered by a Raptors defense keyed by Kawhi Leonard and constant double teams.

He also got little help on the perimeter from his teammates as Milwaukee shot 10 of 31 from beyond the arc — a performance that actually raised its shooting percentage from deep in this series to 30.3 percent. There were multiple dry spells for the Bucks coupled with spurts of 3-pointers by the Raptors in Game 5, which cannot happen if Mike Budenholzer’s team is to bring this series back to Milwaukee for a decisive Game 7.

“We certainly feel like we have what it takes to win the next two games,” Budenholzer said. “Last night was kind of a one- or two-possession game. At times, we were really good and had double-digit leads. Both teams, I guess we’ve blown each other out once each, and the other games have been pretty close.

“We need to go win, whether it be a close game or something different. We need to win Game 6, and obviously you go to a Game 7, both teams have to win it. We certainly feel like we can do that.”

With Milwaukee’s spotty bench scoring the last two games, it is imperative for Khris Middleton to hunt his shot more aggressively than he did in Game 5. He finished with a playoff career-high 10 assists but also had only six points on 2-of-9 shooting coming off his 30-point effort in Game 4.

Budenholzer did not offer anything concrete Friday in terms of adjustments to make his top two scorers focal points for the Bucks offense in an elimination game.

“He’s certainly incredibly important to us,” Budenholzer said of Middleton. “He’s a great shooter. He can impact the game and do a lot of things. As I reflect on it and watch the tape and even just look at the box score, he’s got 10 assists. The usage or the involvement, the impact that Khris was having, I think we can’t just look at nine shots.

“Would we love to get him a few more threes, maybe a few more shots? Yes. But I think the way he’s passing and reading the situations and really looking at the film — Giannis very similarly. I think Giannis is passing and sharing in a really good way. As always, we’d like to get better. So we’ll see if there’s ways we can help.”

The Bucks are 5-10 in playoff elimination games dating back to the 2000 playoffs, including a 1-6 mark on the road. The lone road victory came in Game 5 in their first-round series in 2015 at Chicago.

Leonard, Raptors look to close out Bucks at home

It is not hyperbole to say this is the biggest game in the 24-year franchise history for the Raptors, and by extension, arguably the biggest game in the history of basketball in Canada considering Toronto never got a third win in the 2016 conference finals versus LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Leonard, who looked far better physically in Game 5 than he did in Game 4, scored 15 of his 35 points in the fourth quarter and again thrived in his role as primary defender on Antetokounmpo.

But what made Game 5 different was his offensive flourish in the fourth quarter when he took a series of Bucks defenders to task as they continued to switch on ball screens in the high pick-and-roll.

“I enjoy it, and this was our workout for the summer,” Leonard said after Thursday night’s win. “You’ve just got to go out and shoot the ball, I guess. That’s my mindset. Get to a spot, try to help my teammates win the game.

“Just trying to win, either if it’s me scoring points or getting my teammates wide open looks, just out there trying to win. It does not really matter about me scoring, it’s just about being aggressive and don’t shy away from anything.”

Leonard also had a career-high nine assists — all of which came on 3-pointers by his teammates. Fred VanVleet sank four of his seven 3-pointers off feeds from Leonard, while Pascal Siakam (2), Norman Powell, and Marc Gasol all knocked down looks set up by their All-Star swingman.

Toronto finished with a playoff franchise-record 18 3-pointers — the second time in three games it set a record — and is shooting 36.5 percent from beyond the arc in the series. VanVleet has been lethal in the last two games, hitting 10 of 12 after making 7 of 9 on Thursday night.

Though Gasol’s 3-pointer was the only shot he made, Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry made a salient point about what the former Memphis Grizzlies big man and Serge Ibaka bring to the table in terms of offensive flow and continuity.

“We’ve honestly got a bunch of professionals,” Lowry told The Athletic. “The trade for Marc brought the IQ to another level. It just kind of helped everyone understand. Marc plays extremely smart. Marc plays extremely hard and when you’ve got a guy back there manning your line, it makes things a lot easier.”

Lowry finished with 17 points, seven rebounds, and six assists as he continues to play through a thumb injury on his guide (left) hand for shooting. It has affected his perimeter shooting but not his willingness to drive to the basket — Lowry has made 17 of 18 free throws in the last two games.

Toronto is 8-7 all-time in closeout games, including a 4-1 mark at home. The Raptors have won their last four such opportunities north of the border since being ousted in the first round in 2014 when they dropped a Game 7 to Brooklyn while squandering a 3-2 series lead.

“Yeah, it’s a ‘whatever it takes’ game. It’s an unlimited-minutes night,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “This is just like any other critical must-win games. … We’ve had to play really super hard and super well to get any victories. So we’re focusing our thoughts on the first part of that, playing super hard.

“I think that’s one thing you say we can control. Can we control how hard we run back? Can we control how hard we guard, help each other, contest shots, physical block-outs, physical screening, hard cuts on offense? Those things we can control. Some of the other stuff — shots going in, some other breaks, the ball bouncing or whatever. But we have to do the things we can control to give ourselves a chance to win the game.”

Best Bets for this Game

Full-Game Side Bet

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The Bucks have now had two-plus games to figure out the spots where Antetokounmpo can get the ball in favorable matchups, and there have been mixed results. There were flashes of the play they need to win this game and bring the series back to Milwaukee — most notably getting out and running the floor on misses to get him downhill and score in transition– but that has been the problem.

They were just flashes.

The Bucks appear to be in the worst Catch-22 the postseason offers up-and-coming teams, knowing when their go-to players have to take over games. For all of Antetokounmpo’s skills (and to a lesser extent, this also applies to Middleton), neither he nor Middleton have grabbed a game by the throat and demanded the ball that the Bucks live or die with those performances.

It is an awesome responsibility, and one Leonard has willingly embraced for the Raptors similar to how he did in San Antonio before things went south on the Riverwalk. Right now, that is the difference between these teams, plus Toronto’s better 3-point shooting.

Additionally, Leonard is surrounded by teammates in Lowry and Gasol — as well as reserves Serge Ibaka, Powell, and VanVleet –who show no hesitation nor lack of confidence in taking a good shot when presented. If VanVleet has a third straight solid game from the perimeter, this series will end, but that is a very big X-factor.

The Bucks need Antetokounmpo, Middleton, and Brogdon to walk the fine line between demanding and selfish for this series to get back to Milwaukee, but it also does not feel like it is going to happen. It will not be out of lack of effort among the three, but it has the look of asking them to step too much out of their identity of all the things that got the Bucks to this point.

It has the feel of the rite of passage good teams with young superstars have had in the Eastern Conference in the 1980s and 1990s when Isiah Thomas had to learn how to beat the Boston Celtics before Michael Jordan had to learn how to beat Thomas and the Pistons. In a post-LeBron James era, Antetokounmpo was the best player in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the NBA, but Leonard already made his postseason bones with the Spurs and is now doing the same for the Raptors.

There is always the chance all that aforementioned fluff can be rendered moot — after all, the Bucks won both their games in Toronto in the regular season and pushed the Raptors to the brink in the Game 3 before losing in double overtime. But a one-possession spread and momentum favor the Raptors, and the expectation is they will advance to face the Golden State Warriors.

Prediction: Raptors -2.5 (-105)

Full-Game Total Pick

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After the teams fell well short of the 217 established in Game 5, the hedge is these teams will eke out a higher point total against the lower number in this contest. The over has gone 5-2 in Toronto’s last seven games when scoring 100 or more points in the previous game and 4-1-1 in its last six at home versus above-.500 teams.

The over is also strongly trending with the Bucks on the road, posting a 14-3 mark in their last 17 games versus teams with above-.500 home records. The over also is 6-2 in the last eight games between the teams in Toronto and 8-1 in Milwaukee’s last nine road games overall.

Prediction: OVER 212 points (-105)

Full-Game Prop Bet

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Taking the Raptors and the overall over makes taking the over for the Raptors points the logical corresponding pick. While it may be too much to ask for Leonard to be directly involved on 62 points for a second straight game when factoring his assists, there is enough confidence in his satellite shooters — most notably VanVleet — in which he should surpass 50 and perhaps even reach 55.

If Lowry continues to take the ball to the basket and get to the line in addition to Leonard’s playmaking, the Raptors should be able to clear their number.

And with some help from Propbets.com, here are three individual player props for each team:

Milwaukee — Middleton OVER 16.5 points (-110); Brogdon OVER 15.5 points (-107); Antetokounmpo OVER 45.5 points+rebounds+assists (-115)

Toronto — Lowry OVER 14.5 points (-115); Siakam UNDER 17.5 points (-115); Gasol OVER 10.5 points (-115)

One bonus head-to-head pick: Middleton (+104) more points than Siakam (-136)

Prediction: Raptors OVER 107.5 points (-110)

Half-Time Side Pick

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The Raptors have not disappointed in the last four games of this series with this pick, doing well in Game 5 to squeak out a spread victory after falling behind 18-4. With momentum on their side and home-court advantage, they should be good to cover a spread of less than one possession to further their trend of solid first-half play.

Prediction: Raptors -1.5 (-115)

Half-Time Total Bet

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The number of points between the two teams in the four games in Toronto has climbed steadily higher in each contest, from 100 and 103 in the regular season to 109 and 120 in Games 3 and 4. The hedge is there will not be a repeat of Toronto’s slow start from Game 5 and that the Bucks will not endure a lengthy scoring drought like they did in the second quarter of Game 5 with a very attainable total to clear.

Prediction: OVER 104 points (-110)

Half-Time Prop Prediction

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The teams have cleared this number in six of the eight overall meetings this season, though the Raptors made people suffer in the first quarter of Game 5 with that slow start. One of the two under totals came in Game 3, but they bounced back with a 63-point opening 12 minutes in the last game at Scotiabank Arena.

The look is for both teams to come out swinging aggressively, which means lots of Antetokounmpo touches for Milwaukee and Lowry aggressively hunting his shot.

Prediction: OVER 52.5 points 1st quarter (-121)

Written By Chris Altruda

A 1994 graduate of Marquette University when they were known as the Warriors and Brooklyn native, Chris Altruda is a freelance sportswriter based in Chicago. He has worked at three major U.S. wire services and also has prior experience in sports handicapping and daily fantasy roster building. Now that the Cubs have won a World Series, he holds out hope the Jets will win a Super Bowl before he dies. Can be followed on Twitter at @AlTruda73.