With the Hawks win last night, it’s confirmed: the Toronto Raptors will play the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs. We’ve got three days to mentally and emotionally prepare ourselves for a lot of Giannis Antetokounmpo.
As in the Pacers series last year, the Raptors should be favoured. They have two All-Stars (as opposed to the Bucks’ one), they have more experienced veterans, the core of the squad has played together for years, they’ve got more reliable depth, and they’re not using rookies in any key positions. But, with Giannis (like Paul George last year), the Bucks have the lone transcendental player in the series, the one most capable of getting an entire city to say, “he did what?”
It’s a concern.
For the regular season, the Raptors largely controlled the season series, winning 3-1, and owning two blowouts. But both teams changed considerably from the start of the year to its end. In the first three games, all wins by Toronto, the Bucks still had Jabari Parker on the roster (he’s out with a torn ACL), and were waiting for Khris Middleton’s return. They only gradually unlocked the starting potential of rookie Malcolm Brogdon (and Thon Maker, for that matter) in that time. There was also the trade to dump a Plumlee (Miles) for Spencer Hawes and the ghost of Roy Hibbert, which, OK.
The Raptors of course have fortified their roster with veterans Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, weathered the storm without Kyle Lowry (a stretch that saw them lose to the Bucks that one time), and still maintain their course as one of the top teams in the conference. It’s an encouraging sign.
The Bucks bench, meanwhile, provides the team with some solid veterans in Greg Monroe, Jason Terry, Matthew Dellavedova, Hawes (sure) and Mirza Teletovic, some of whom will presumably be called on to stabilize the team in Brogdon and Maker’s place. (Unless Milwaukee is going to, ahem, buck the trend and go all-in with their rookies in the playoffs — a risky venture.) They also have the evil genius Jason Kidd (remember him?) as their coach. If there’s a man who can get inside the Raptors’ collective head and manage a game and series to suit his own devious ends, it’s Kidd. It’s not a stretch to say the entire city of Toronto does not care much for him.
If pressed to make a prediction, the Raptors should win this series. But — there is always a “but” with Toronto in the post-season — it likely won’t be easy. The Giannis-Middleton combo can do a lot to disrupt what the Raptors want to do with DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, the two players Toronto needs to get the rest of the squad going. It’ll take a village to slow Giannis down on the offensive end, and Middleton is no slouch either. And while the Raptors should own most of the matchups (e.g. who is stopping Ibaka? Or Valanciunas? Or the Lowry plus bench lineup?), those two Bucks — particularly Giannis — will make it stressful. There will be at least one moment when we say “he did what?”
The Raptors-Bucks series will start this Saturday, April 15th, and while no time slot has been officially announced, it seems incredibly likely that Toronto will get its customary 12:30pm slot.
Get your popcorn ready.