NBA

NBA Playoffs: Milwaukee Bucks vs. Toronto Raptors Eastern Conference Finals Preview

MVP candidates Giannis Antetokounmpo (left) and Kawhi Leonard face off in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals.

The Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors each have two series wins in the 2019 NBA playoffs, and they face-off in the Eastern Conference Finals starting May 15. With LeBron James in the Western Conference, we knew a new team would have a shot at making the NBA Finals in the East.

Before the series gets started, let’s break down the matchup to determine who will face either Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers or Stephen Curry, coach Steve Kerr, and the Golden State Warriors in the NBA finals.

TV schedule

  • Game 1: Toronto at Milwaukee, Wednesday, May 15, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT
  • Game 2: Toronto at Milwaukee, Friday, May 17, 8:30 p.m. ET TNT
  • Game 3: Milwaukee at Toronto, Sunday, May 19, 7:00 p.m. ET, TNT
  • Game 4: Milwaukee at Toronto, Tuesday, May 21, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT
  • Game 5 (if necessary): Toronto at Milwaukee, Thursday, May 23, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT
  • Game 6 (if necessary): Milwaukee at Toronto, Saturday, May 25, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT

Game 7 (if necessary): Toronto at Milwaukee, Monday, May 27, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT

Regular season results

The Bucks won a division title and took the top seed in the East with an NBA-best 60-22 record, but the Raptors weren’t far behind that pace. Toronto also won its division, and it captured the East’s No. 2 seed at 58-24.

Milwaukee started the season with a seven-game winning streak, had another of that length in late February and early March, and enjoyed two six-game winning streaks this season. Toronto enjoyed sports of six wins or more four times this season.

The Bucks looked like the better team when matched up against the Raptors in the regular season. They went 3-1 against the Raptors and won all three games decisively. Toronto got a blowout victory in their third meeting, but Milwaukee was too talented in the other three matchups. The average score in the head-to-head contests — Milwaukee 112, Toronto 106. Edge: Bucks

Starting lineups

Both teams have excellent starting lineups with MVP candidates leading the way. Milwaukee’s offense runs through Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the potential league MVP averaged 27 points and 12 rebounds per game during the regular season. Khris Middleton is a sharpshooter in the backcourt who has played well this postseason and is averaging 19 points and six rebounds per game.

Malcolm Brogdon may also return to the starting lineup in this series, and he is a potential 50/40/90 (field goal, 3-point, and free throw percentages) player. If he’s able to play, then it will definitely be a boost to the Milwaukee offense.

Kawhi Leonard leads the Toronto attack, and he has made several memorable plays in his first year with the team after being shipped out of San Antonio, none more important than the game-winner against the 76ers in Game 7 of that series.

Kawhi Leonard, Marc Gasol, and Pascal Siakam lead the Toronto Raptors into the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals.
Kawhi Leonard (from left), Marc Gasol, abd Pascal Siakam lead the way for Toronto. | Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The Raptors also have veteran point guard Kyle Lowry, who has unfortunately played like his usual playoff self averaging just 12 points in the postseason. The star in the making is Pascal Siakam who is an explosive forward able to create his own shot and take some of the scoring pressure off of Leonard. Based on his small salary and robust production, he truly might be the most valuable player in the game.

This is a fairly even matchup on paper, but we will give the edge to Milwaukee because you never know which Kyle Lowry will step on the court during the NBA playoffs. Edge: Bucks

Bench depth

The Milwaukee bench has a key reserve in George Hill, who still has the ability to make an impact on the floor. Pat Connaughton is a marksman from the 3-point line and could be valuable coming off the bench.

Toronto’s bench play starts with Fred VanVleet, and the guard out of Wichita State not only provides good defense but can direct the offense and get buckets when needed. Even though rotations shorten in the postseason, having a reliable reserve can make all the difference in the NBA playoffs. He’s on the short list to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award, which isn’t something any or Milwaukee’s reserves can say. Edge: Raptors

Coaching

Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer's NBA playoffs experience gives him the coaching edge on Toronto's Nick Nurse in the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals.
Mike Budenholzer has experience coaching in the NBA playoffs. | Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Mike Budenholzer just coached the second 60-win season of his career and led the Bucks to the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. He has always had a knack for developing talent, and this is easily his best coaching job.

Nick Nurse is in his first year as an NBA head coach after stints overseas and in the D-league. He molded an offense around Kawhi Leonard, and the Raptors were the No. 2 seed in the East because of it.

Although Nurse has done a wonderful job coaching in Toronto, Budenholzer has more experience in the NBA playoffs, and the veteran should get the most out of this matchup. Edge: Bucks

Milwaukee wins in six games

This is a very good matchup of the top two teams in the Eastern Conference. After looking at everything on paper, we think the Bucks will win a tight series in six games and make their first trip to the finals since 1974. The likely opponent will be Golden State, who we are picking to top Portland in the Western Conference Finals.