The Milwaukee Bucks jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals following a 125-103 win Friday at Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee.
Bucks defeat the Raptors by 22 to take a 2-0 series lead. They are 10-1 in the playoffs 🦌— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 18, 2019
Giannis: 30 PTS | 17 REB | 5 AST pic.twitter.com/NhKEraeCbE
Giannis Antetokounmpo posted 30 points, 17 rebounds and five assists in the victory.
Khris Middleton was an efficient 5-of-8 en route to a 12-point night. Malcolm Brogdon also chipped in with 14 points, four rebounds and five assists off the bench.
Kawhi Leonard had 31 points and eight rebounds in the loss.
Kyle Lowry had a night to forget, shooting 4-of-13 for 15 points.
Brogdon, Mirotic Can Help Bucks Dethrone Warriors
Last year's playoffs illustrated the Bucks' limitations when Antetokounmpo and Middleton basically have to do everything themselves. Antetokounmpo averaged 25.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists, while Middleton averaged 24.7 points and shot 61 percent from three.
Their contributions couldn't prevent a first-round exit to a more balanced Boston Celtics squad.
Going from Joe Prunty to Mike Budenholzer at head coach obviously had an impact, but this year's postseason has shown how much stronger the Bucks are across the board. In the second round, George Hill exploded for 52 points in the final three games of the series. Brook Lopez was instrumental in Milwaukee's Game 1 over Toronto, with 29 points and four blocks.
On Friday night, the trio of Malcolm Brogdon, Nikola Mirotic and Ersan Ilyasova collectively stepped up make the Raptors miserable. They scored 46 points together and shot 7-of-18 from the perimeter.
Milwaukee is happy to have Giannis and Kawhi cancel out each other with 11 points each in the 1H ... as long as the other three guys scoring in dbl figures are all Bucks. Mirotic, Ilyasova 15p each, Brogdon 12.— Steve Aschburner (@AschNBA) May 18, 2019
MIL 64, TOR 39 at half.
Lowry 6p 4f. Raptors 8 t/overs, Bucks 2.
The top three scorers at halftime of a game in the freaking Eastern Conference Finals:— Rob Mahoney (@RobMahoney) May 18, 2019
Ersan Ilyasova (15)
Nikola Mirotić (15)
Malcolm Brogdon (12)
Ilyasova's 17 points were two short of his season high.
In a possible Finals matchup with the Golden State Warriors, the Bucks would clearly need Antetokounmpo and Middleton to lead the way. In order to actually beat the Warriors, Milwaukee's supporting cast would need to continue delivering as it has throughout the postseason.
Brogdon and Mirotic should be particularly vital. Brogdon is one of the team's best perimeter defenders and would thus would probably draw Klay Thompson when he's on the floor. Mirotic is responsible for helping space the floor for Antetokounmpo and providing an outlet when the Warriors crowd the Greek Freak.
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told reporters it's unclear how long Kevin Durant might be out with his calf strain, per ESPN.com's Nick Friedell. If Durant's injury continues to linger into the Finals, then a deeper Bucks roster will push Golden State to the limit in a seven-game series.
Raptors Facing Bleak Future
Leonard's Game 7 buzzer-beater against the Philadelphia 76ers already feels like a lifetime ago.
On that night, anything seemed possible. The Raptors could roll through the Bucks en route to the Finals. Leonard could re-sign with Toronto, extending the franchise's championship window for the foreseeable future.
Friday night was a reality check for the Raptors. Toronto is two games away from a playoff exit and an offseason that could radically alter the team's long-term direction.
Bucks fans weren't above trolling their Canadian counterparts about Leonard's impending free agency—assuming he opts out of his contract.
Independent of Leonard's decision, going through the Eastern Conference won't get any easier in 2020.
As soon as the Raptors watch LeBron James head westward, they see Antetokounmpo essentially become the same kind of singular challenge to overcome in the playoffs. And Antetokounmpo is still 24, so he's only approaching his prime playing years.
The 76ers, too, should be improved with a full season of Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris if they decide to run things back next season. The Boston Celtics might benefit from a return to legitimate team chemistry if Kyrie Irving decides to opt out this summer. The New York Knicks would look a lot different if they can land Irving and/or Kevin Durant in free agency.
Even if they stand pat and retain all of their best players, the Raptors are bound to have a higher level of competition in the East.
Take Leonard out of the mix and things get pretty dark. The Raptors' lack of depth behind Leonard has been clear throughout the playoffs.
Bucks fans chanting, "Playoff Lowry" while Kyle Lowry was at the foul line. The cruelty— Vincent Goodwill (@VinceGoodwill) May 18, 2019
In general, it's way too early to consider a complete teardown. But fans may be seeing the end of the Raptors' run as a title threat without a complete roster overhaul.
The series moves to Toronto for Game 3 on Sunday, with tip-off scheduled for 7 p.m. ET. While not an elimination game, it's effectively a must-win situation for the Raptors. Falling behind 3-0 to the top-seeded Bucks would be an almost impossible mountain to climb.