After yesterday’s 108-99 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Toronto Raptors clinched the number two seed in the Eastern Conference as well their seventh division title (their sixth in the past seven years). It has yet to be seen how home court advantage in the bubble will play out in the playoffs but the Raptors have it for the first two rounds and will most likely play the Brooklyn Nets first and the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. With five games down and a 4-1 record, the Raptors have also won 50 games for a franchise best five consecutive years.
A lot of questions have been asked about this iteration of the Raptors — where they would finish, who would stand out, could they defend their title — and most have been answered so far. In just 69 games, the Raptors reached 50 wins and clinched the second seed. Fred VanVleet, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, Norman Powell, and Kyle Lowry all improved their scoring and impact on the game. The bench has played well all year with Terence Davis as the standout rookie. Since entering the bubble, they have played excellent defense against some tough competition such as the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat.
The Raptors have only one more objective they need to reach for now. The playoffs are just a week away, with three more games ahead of them. Tonight, they play the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks who present the biggest Eastern Conference challenge to the Raptors in their quest for another title. And it’s worth noting here that Toronto has yet to beat the Bucks this season. Can they do it tonight? Here are the details for the game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet 6:30 PM EST
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 (knee – OUT), Oshae Brissett (knee – day-to-day), Paul Watson (back – day-to-day)
Milwaukee – Thanasis Antetokounmpo (concussion – day-to-day)
Making the Case
Since entering the bubble, Fred VanVleet has shown why he should be the Raptors priority this off-season. After a career high 36 points against the Miami Heat, in which he nailed 7-of-12 from three, he followed it up with 21 and 10 performance against the Orlando Magic. He’s shown excellent instincts on both ends of the court, has great chemistry with Pascal Siakam, and is learning more from Kyle Lowry (I dare you to try backing down Fred VanVleet).
Toronto must make some decisions this off-season if they want to be in play for the 2021 Giannis Sweepstakes. Serge Ibaka — also having a career year — is a free agent, as well as Marc Gasol. OG Anunoby is up for a rooking extension. Someone will have to pay these players and there is always the threat of other franchises upping the cost. VanVleet is a proven winner and I would not be surprised to see a team like the New York Knicks make an offer. Regardless, the front office knows VanVleet’s best opportunity to win is in Toronto. Hopefully, he agrees.
Pascal Siakam scored 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting against the Celtics before following with 26 points against the Grizzlies. As a whole, the Raptors struggled against Boston’s defense, shooting abysmally from all over the court. Chalk it up as “one of those games”. However, Siakam’s game against the Grizzlies showed a great bounce back in which he shot 9-of-16 from the field.
With the departure of Kawhi Leonard, Toronto has been grooming Siakam to take over the major scoring duties against the top ranked defenses in the league, but since entering the Bubble, Siakam has struggled; before yesterday’s game, Siakam had shot over 50 percent and hit the 20-point mark just once since the restart. A lot of that could be attributed to a nearly five-month delay in competitive basketball, but with the stretch run coming, Siakam must get going fast if Toronto wants to defend their title. How he exerts himself tonight against Giannis and the Bucks will provide a clear sign as to where Siakam is at.
Something is Missing in Milwaukee
Both the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers have not been playing to their usual standards after clinching the first seeds in their respective conferences and looking at their current form would show it. Milwaukee is 3-7 in their last ten and only 2-3 in the bubble after their loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night. It should not be that concerning considering both teams are using these games as tune ups for the playoffs. But still: are there some cracks showing in the armour of Milwaukee?
Milwaukee have dropped winnable games against the Rockets and Mavericks while nearly suffering a season sweep to their potential second round opponent the Miami Heat. Their number one ranked defense this season has also allowed an average of 119.8 points per game in the bubble. Tonight’s matchup against the Bucks would perhaps have a lot more suspense and excitement if it wasn’t in the Bubble. And since both teams have clinched their positions, they have little to play for so close to the start of the playoffs. Nevertheless, the Raptors still need to test themselves to see how they stack up against the Bucks.