With Game 1 on Wednesday night, the Bucks have been sitting for an entire week after dispatching the Boston Celtics in five games in the second round. Except for that stunning Game 1 loss to the Celtics, they’ve made easy work of their opponents, with seven of their eight wins coming by double-digits.
As for the Raptors, their road to the ECF wasn’t as easy. They got past the Orlando Magic in the first round without too much trouble, but then had to go through seven grueling games to get past the Philadelphia 76ers. And they only did so thanks to Kawhi Leonard’s miraculous buzzer-beater in Game 7.
Here’s everything you need to know about the 2019 Eastern Conference finals:
No. 1 Milwaukee Bucks vs. No. 2 Toronto Raptors
How to watch Game 1
- Date: Wednesday, May 15
- Time: 8:30 p.m. ET
- Location: Fiserv Forum — Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- TV channel: TNT
- Live stats: GameTracker
- Online streaming: fuboTV (try it for free)
- Odds: Bucks -6.5 (Over/Under 218.5)
All Eastern Conference finals games will air on TNT. Games on TNT can be streamed via fuboTV (try it for free).
Playoff series schedule, results
*All times Eastern
- Game 1 (at MIL): Wed., May 15, 8:30 p.m. — TV: TNT
- Game 2 (at MIL): Fri., May 17, 8:30 p.m. — TV: TNT
- Game 3 (at TOR): Sun., May 19, 7 p.m. — TV: TNT
- Game 4 (at TOR): Tue., May 21, 8:30 p.m. — TV: TNT
- Game 5* (at MIL): Thu., May 23, 8:30 p.m. — TV: TNT
- Game 6* (at TOR): Sat., May 25, 8:30 p.m. — TV: TNT
- Game 7* (at MIL): Mon., May 27, 8:30 p.m. — TV: TNT
Odds and Analysis
Check Sportsline’s NBA pick sheet for all your daily odds.
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Raptors: When Masai Ujiri pulled the trigger on the blockbuster trade to acquire Kawhi Leonard last summer, he did so with the hope that Leonard would lead the Raptors to the playoff heights they’d been unable to reach with DeMar DeRozan. With Leonard set to become a free agent this summer, it was a huge risk. But now, after their star man’s heroics in Game 7 against the Sixers, it’s just one series away from paying off. If Leonard can up his game yet again and lead the Raptors past the Bucks, they’ll reach the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Bucks: Much like the Raptors, the Bucks underwent plenty of change this summer. But instead of acquiring a top-five player in the league, they rebuilt around the one they already had. Mike Budenholzer arrived as the new head coach, retooled the Bucks’ offense to provide spacing and shooting around Giannis Antetokounmpo and built an elite defense on the other end of the floor. Even those in charge in Milwaukee couldn’t have expected things to go this well, as they earned the best record in the regular season and are now four wins away from their first trip to the Finals since 1974.
Matchups to watch
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo vs. Kawhi Leonard: This won’t be a true one-on-one matchup, because even though they will guard each other at points, neither is their team’s main defensive option against the other. Still, it’s an important matchup in the sense that these are two of the five best players in the league, and they will define how this series plays out.
They are each two-way players capable of impacting the game on both sides of the ball, and though Leonard is more versatile on the offensive end, they each border on unstoppable at times. Neither team can expect to shut the other’s star down, but the extent to which they can limit the damage they do will go a long way.
Each team needs their star to show up in a big way, but especially the Raptors, whose supporting cast has been unreliable at times throughout the first two rounds. If Leonard doesn’t at least match Giannis, it’s hard to see how the Raptors would advance.
2. Eric Bledsoe vs. Kyle Lowry: These two have had their fair share of struggles in the playoffs, both in the past and at times this season. But they’re each vital to their team and when they play well, so does their team. In a series that will feature a number of key individual matchups, this is one of the most important.
During the four regular-season meetings between these two teams — three of which were won by the Bucks — Bledsoe was an absolute menace on the defensive end against Lowry. The Raptors point guard didn’t make a single shot while being guarded by Bledsoe, going 0-of-11 over 122 possessions, according to the NBA’s matchup data. That simply cannot happen in this series. As well as Kawhi Leonard has played, he needs help from his supporting cast, and Lowry in particular. Scoring isn’t the only aspect of Lowry’s game, but he needs to score more than the 6.3 points per game he did in the regular season meetings for the Raptors to have a chance.
3. 3-point shooting: Anyone who watched the Bucks on a frequent basis the past few seasons knew that the team needed to add more shooting around Giannis Antetokounmpo. Well, this season they went all in on that plan and developed one of the most potent 3-point attacks in the league, firing up nearly 40 3s per game in the regular season. In truth, they don’t have many elite outside shooters but they have over half a dozen guys who are both willing and able to let it fly, and they can overwhelm teams when they get hot.
On the other side, the Raptors have a more balanced offense. They don’t eschew the 3 in the way that the Spurs or Sixers do, but it isn’t the focal point of their offense. Plus, they’ve been off the mark in the postseason, making just 32.7 percent of their attempts, which is by far the worst among the four remaining teams. They’re going to have to start knocking down some shots from the outside though because as we saw in the Boston series, it’s awfully tough to beat the Bucks when you can’t hit 3s.
Bucks in five. This is another exciting series in what has been a stellar Eastern Conference playoffs. These were the two best teams in the East all season long, and now they meet with a trip to the Finals on the line. But as good as the Raptors were this season, the Bucks were always a bit better, and they’ll prove that in this series. Even if the two stars cancel each other out, the Bucks have a better supporting cast and more shooting.