While it feels as though everything is clicking for the Toronto Raptors through five games — having a 4-1 record helps — it’s the marquee matchups that will define who they truly are. And nothing says ‘marquee’ like an Eastern Conference Finals rematch from a year ago.
As the Raptors walk into Milwaukee on Saturday night, both teams look slightly different compared to their previous late-May when Toronto eliminated the Bucks 4-2 in the ECF. The Raptors, of course, have turned the page on Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green. The Bucks’ biggest offseason loss was Malcolm Brogdon.
Still, both teams are looked at as powerhouses in the East this season. The question remains who can take advantage of tough early season matchups. While the Bucks do have an impressive opening season victory over the Houston Rockets, neither team has a standout win over a conference opponent. (They both do, however, have a loss to Boston.)
Through five games each, the Raptors have the numerical advantage with a net rating of 8.4 compared to the Bucks’ 7.0. It’s been the Raptors defense with a 99.1 defensive rating that has led those early season wins, but their offensive rating is just outside the NBA’s top-10 at 107.5. Meanwhile, the Bucks have their offense to thank with a 110.7 offensive rating and a defensive rating at 103.7 — which is just outside the NBA’s top-10.
As it stands, this game will allow one of these teams to make an early season statement. A win for the Raptors shows they can still compete with the top tier of East teams, while a loss may raise some questions about player minutes (specifically Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet) and other concerns. A win for the Bucks is much needed with a 3-2 record, while a loss would put them at .500 — and lead to early season uncertainty. Ultimately, this game won’t decide the ECF but it’ll be one great rematch.
Here are your game details.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet One, 8:00 PM ET
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet, OG Anunoby, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Milwaukee – Eric Bledsoe, Wesley Matthews, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Toronto – Patrick McCaw (Left knee - out)
Milwaukee – N/A
Tired Bucks Stop Here
It’s only the fifth game of the season for the Bucks, but they’re schedule hasn’t been nice to them so far. Saturday night will mark their third game in four nights. After losing to Boston on Oct. 30 they bounced back with a convincing win on the road at Orlando. However, right after that they had to hop on the plane and get back to Milwaukee for this matchup versus the Raptors.
The Bucks are going to do whatever they can to get the win at home, especially with seven of their next eight games on the road.
On the other hand, the schedule has been nicer to the Raptors as they’ve had a couple days off before this game. And then they’ll get three days off before hosting Sacramento on Nov. 6th. Yes, they’ve had to play a back-to-back already, and they’re about to jump out on their customary five-game west road trip, but it’s been relatively smooth sailing so far.
Still, it’ll be important for the Raptors to take advantage of the tired legs of Milwaukee and get this win early in the new season.
Giannis versus Siakam
Want to talk about a young highly talented NBA marquee matchup? We already know about Giannis — the 2018-19 NBA MVP — but now we’re learning that Siakam may be ready to surpass what we thought we knew about him. So far this season Pascal is showing that he has a lot more talent to put on display. Neither team or player has peaked yet, which makes this matchup even more interesting. Now just look at these season averages so far:
Giannis: 24.8 points, 13.6 rebounds, 7.6 assists, 56.1 FG% / 16.7 3PT% / 59.2 FT%
Pascal: 28.0 points, 9.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 51.0 FG% / 44.4 3PT% / 96.3 FT%
Could Giannis win a back-to-back MVP? Is Siakam capable of winning Most Improved again or getting on the All-Star or All-NBA teams? Will Siakam get MVP votes? These are all questions that will be asked as the season progresses. But we are about to watch the two most versatile youth talents in the league go head-to-head.
Next Man Up
According to last night’s injury report, the Raptors will be without McCaw once again thanks to a sore knee. After missing the first three games, the Raptors guard played in the last two to mixed effect — McCaw is still tentative to shoot, but he does muck it up on defense, which is useful for Toronto. In any case, the Raptors have already been playing with a short lineup as coach Nick Nurse hasn’t exactly been pleased with some of the Raptors’ newest players since preseason.
Without McCaw, the Raptors have turned to extended minutes for Terence Davis and Matt Thomas. Could they be due to return to the court tonight? Or will Nurse look for some bigger/stronger players to matchup with the Bucks’ size? Either way, against a tough opponent like Milwaukee it’ll be important for the Raptors to get extended minutes from the bench, however that part of the rotation ends up looking.
This isn’t just a one game thing though, the Raptors will need their bench pieces to step up for more minutes as the season carries on. You can bet this will be a discussion until one or two players can do so regularly.