The Bucks, at least the old-time diehards, saw some demons exorcized Wednesday night. Led by 20 points from Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee ripped past Boston 116-91 to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001.
The Celtics have been a constant thorn in their sides over the last four decades. They knocked out the Bucks last year in the 1st round in seven games. They eliminated them twice in the conference finals during the 80s, and denied the franchise its 2nd NBA title during the 1974 Finals.
Now, Milwaukee is waiting on the conclusion of the other conference semifinals to see the next opponent: either the Raptors of 76ers. The oddsmakers at OddsShark don’t just have the Bucks getting past them to the Finals, but give them the 2nd-best odds at winning it all.
While the Warriors still lead the whole pack for title odds, they still have to get past the Rockets in their own conference semifinals. That is currently tied 2-2 heading into a late Wednesday night Game 5 (10:30 p.m. EST, TNT).
For now, let’s take a look at who Milwaukee has the better chance at playing in the conference finals, as well as taking a stab at a prediction.
Bucks Conference Finals Best Matchup & Prediction
Right now, the more likely opponent is Toronto. Behind Kawhi Leonard’s 31.2 points per game this postseason, the Raptors lead the Sixers 3-2 as the series heads back to Philadelphia for Game 6 Thursday night. With Joel Embiid struggling health-wise and getting outplayed by Pascal Siakam and Marc Gasol, this series might end sooner rather than later.
Tuesday’s 125-89 rout over the Sixers was indicative of which team is motivated more at the moment. Toronto is on a mission to reach its first-ever NBA Finals after getting swept last year by LeBron James and Cleveland.
Milwaukee took the season series 3-1, including the last meeting in Canada 105-92. One thing that Toronto is capable of more than anyone else in the league is a defensive star able to slow down Antetokounmpo. Led by Leonard, the Greek Freak failed to eclipse 20 points in two of the contests.
With that said, he erupted for 43 points and 18 rebounds in a 123-116 defeat at home on January 5.
On the downside for Toronto, the Bucks have down a good job at slowing Leonard, as well. He mustered just 16 points in the last meeting, as well as a solid but unspectacular 20 points in an early December loss at Scotiabank Arena.
That would put the onus on Kyle Lowry and Siakam to carry a higher scoring load. Lowry, on top of a notoriously underwhelming reputation in the postseason, scored a grand total of 19 points in three meeting with the Bucks this season.
Meanwhile, Milwaukee’s supporting cast is seemingly bottomless. Nikola Mirotic, George Hill, Ersan Ilyasova, Pat Connaughton, Malcolm Brogdon…the list goes on and on as these guys just rotate effective bench minutes.
I’m calling this series to be much like Toronto vs. Cleveland last year. Milwaukee’s superstar forward is turning into the next LeBron, while the supporting cast he has is far superior to Leonard’s. It may not be a sweep, but it’ll feel like it.
Prediction: Bucks in 5