NBA playoffs 2019/Bucks vs. Raptors: 3 things that will decide the series

Giannis Antetokounmpo

The matchup between the Bucks and the Raptors is one of the most intriguing of the entire postseason.

The matchup between the Bucks and the Raptors is one of the most intriguing of the entire NBA playoffs.

Milwaukee easily advanced to the Eastern Conference finals by topping the Celtics in its second-round series. Meanwhile, Toronto managed to squeeze past the 76ers in seven games.

Top-seeded Milwaukee and second-seeded Toronto were the two top teams in the East throughout 2018-19. Both have at least two All-Stars and multi-dimensional offenses.

The Bucks beat the Raptors three of the four times the teams met during the regular season.

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals tips off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. ET (TNT) in Milwaukee.

Here are three things that will decide the series:

Kawhi vs. Giannis

This is the matchup everyone wants to see.

Raptors wing Kawhi Leonard and Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo are two of the game’s brightest stars. Each has delivered for his team time and again this postseason. Antetokounmpo is difficult to stop around the rim, and Leonard hit the biggest shot in Raptors history when he knocked down a fourth-quarter buzzer-beater in Game 7 against Philadelphia.

Leonard and Antetokounmpo are go-to scorers who can also change a game defensively. It’ll be fun to watch them face off multiple times.

Battle of the benches

The Bucks’ bench is one of their strengths. The Raptors definitely cannot say the same.

Milwaukee will rely on its second unit for long stretches and can depend on as many as nine players. Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill and Pat Connaughton have all made an impact for the Bucks so far in the playoffs, and Malcolm Brogdon returned from a foot injury in Game 5 against the Celtics.

Toronto, on the other hand, has received little from its reserves, which has forced coach Nick Nurse to play his starters heavy minutes throughout the postseason. The Raptors hope that trend does not continue.

OG Anunoby’s status

It’s unclear whether OG Anunoby will return this series.

The 21-year-old Toronto forward underwent an emergency appendectomy in mid-April and has yet to play in the playoffs. He did some light work at practice earlier this week and is starting to be more active, Nurse told reporters.

Anunoby, however, is still at least a week from ramping up activities, Nurse said, which means he would not make it back onto the court until the latter part of the series, at the earliest, and likely only if the Raptors can push the series to Game 6 or 7, scheduled for May 25 and 27.

At 6-8 with a 7-6 wingspan, Anunoby would provide the Raptors with another player capable of guarding the 6-11 Antetokounmpo if Anunoby does manage to make his 2019 postseason debut and is healthy against the Bucks. That could make all the difference.

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