RAPTORS-BUCKS: A repeat of 2017 playoff matchup but, this time, Milwaukee doesn’t have Dellavedova
It’s hard to say if the Milwaukee Bucks are in a better position to get to the NBA Finals, now that Kawhi Leonard’s buzzer beater finally went through the net.
At 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, the series between the Bucks and Toronto Raptors gets started from Milwaukee.
Coverage Wednesday on WKTY 96.7 FM / 580 AM will begin at 7 p.m. — the Brewers-Phillies game will be on WIZM 92.3 FM / 1410 AM
The teams that finished Nos. 1 and 2 in the regular season face off in a rematch of a 2016-17 playoff matchup that went to Toronto in six.
From that series, both teams have kept some of their core but upgraded everything around them drastically.
The Bucks retain Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon, but the role players are much improved from the likes of starters Thon Maker, Tony Snell. Greg Monroe, the ageless Jason Terry and NBA champion Matthew Dellavedova played major minutes off the bench for the Bucks back then.
The Raptors still have Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka, but their best players are newcomers. Insert Leonard for DeMar DeRozan, switch in Marc Gasol for Jonas Valanciunas, Add Piscal Siakam and switch Danny Green for DeMarre Carroll.
Oddly, the difference in that series might have been because of one of the dumber Milwaukee Bucks trades, in which they gave up a first-round pick and rookie second-rounder Norman Powell out of UCLA for then-28-year-old Greivis Vasquez, who seemed more like 38 years old.
In the series, the Bucks stole Game 1 at Toronto and were up 2-1 heading back to Milwaukee.
That’s when the Raptors inserted Powell into the starting lineup and never lost again.
Powell had a nice Game 4, then single-handedly beat the Bucks in Game 5, scoring 25 on 8 of 11 shooting, including nailing all four of his 3-pointers. Toronto did shoot 57.7 percent in that game, however.
Powell wasn’t the difference in eliminating the Bucks in Game 6. DeRozan scored 32 and Dellavedova played 34 minutes, which about sums that up.
As for this season, the top-seeded Bucks (60-12) are 3-1 against the Raptors (58-14), but one of those wins was without Leonard, and all four of those games were without Gasol, who was acquired at the Feb. 7 trade deadline.
Gasol does so many things better than Valanciunas — who was traded in the deal. Gasol is a much better passer — one of the best bigs in the NBA.
The 34-year-old can also shoot the 3-pointer — he went 6-for-12 in a Memphis Grizzlies win over the Bucks earlier this season. In another Memphis loss to Milwaukee, he was 2-for-4.
He’s also 7-feet tall, so, combined with 6-10 Serge Ibaka and 6-9 Pascal Siakam, the Bucks will have an even more difficult time at the rim than against the Boston Celtics — and this isn’t even factoring in Leonard being the best defensive player in the league.
Offensively, in three games against Milwaukee, Leonard averaged 22 points on 42.6 percent shooting — 30 percent from deep — 7.7 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.3 steals, .7 blocks and just 1.1 turnovers.
It’ll be interesting to see if Leonard matches up against Antetokounmpo or sticks with Khris Middleton. Siakam — in his third season, a breakout one for the 25-year-old — could likely guard the Greek Freak while the Raptors put up an Ibaka-Gasol wall much like Boston did with Al Horford and company.
For Antetokounmpo, in four games against Toronto, the 24-year-old has averaged 27 points on 58.5 percent shooting, 15.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.7 steals, 1.0 blocks and 3.0 turnovers.
The rest of the Bucks starters — Middleton, Eric Bledsoe, Brook Lopez, Brogdon — have all averaged double figures against Toronto.
It’s hard to gauge whether this series will be won at the rim or beyond the arc. Or, it could be something like offensive rebounding, which is the reason why Toronto won Game 7 on Sunday (a 16-to-5 advantage on the offensive glass and 24 more field goal attempts).
Every player on the floor for Toronto and Milwaukee will, for the most part, be able to shoot the 3-pointer. Against the Sixers, Toronto wasn’t great from deep, shooting just 30.8 percent, while Milwaukee was 34.3 percent in the five-game series against the Celtics.
PHOTO – AP FILE – Milwaukee Bucks’ Matthew Dellavedova fouls Toronto Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan during the first half of Game 4 of an NBA first-round playoff series basketball game Saturday, April 22, 2017, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)