Depth could make the difference when the well-rested Milwaukee Bucks host the opener of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday night against the Toronto Raptors, who were extended to the last possible second before winning a dramatic seventh game Sunday.
The Bucks finished with the NBA’s best record and won the season series 3-1 against the Raptors, who had the second-best record.
Both teams used their benches effectively during the regular season.
Milwaukee’s reserves remained significant as it breezed through its first two playoff rounds, but Toronto has had limited contributions from its backups.
The focus of the best-of-seven series will be on marquee players — Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo and Toronto’s Kawhi Leonard.
Then there are such significant players as the Bucks’ Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe and the Raptors’ Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam.
The remaining casts could determine the outcome, however.
By relying so heavily on a shortened rotation in a grueling series with the Philadelphia 76ers, won by Leonard’s buzzer-beating shot for the ages, the Raptors might become a victim of fatigue. The Bucks, meanwhile, not only have had a week off, but have confidence in their reserves.
“We don’t doubt our bench, not one bit coming into this game, coming into Game 1 Wednesday,” Bledsoe told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel after the Bucks’ practice on Monday.
Malcolm Brogdon, after missing eight weeks with a torn plantar fascia in his right foot, returned to play 17 minutes in the finale of the five-game semifinal win over the Boston Celtics last Wednesday and that makes the Bucks even deeper.
According to NBA.com, Milwaukee’s bench has played 39.8 percent of the team’s playoff minutes, averaging 37.4 points on 48.1 percent shooting.
The Raptors’ reserves, however, have played less than 30 percent of playoff minutes — including 24.8 percent against Philadelphia — and have averaged 21.6 points per game on 38.9 percent shooting.
The Raptors have missed OG Anunoby, who had an emergency appendectomy at the end of the regular season. He has been ruled out for the series opener.
“In this atmosphere and environment, it takes a lot of energy and effort to be great defensively,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’re similar offensively — we want to play fast, we want to get out and run and move. All of those things do require an amount of effort and exertion and all those things, so if we can have more people to throw at the process, more people to throw at our opponent and keep us in a good place, it’s an advantage.”
The Raptors will be dealing with a different style in the Bucks than against Philadelphia and in the five-game series against the Orlando Magic.
“It’s a totally different style than we’ve just been through in our last two series,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “These were set-play teams, pretty methodical on offense. They’d come down and run things, and run some post-ups and run stuff for certain guys. Not to say Milwaukee doesn’t do some of that, too, but they would much rather spread the floor, give it to a guy, put their head down and take it to the rim, put it in the rim. If you send help, they’ll fire it out and they’re going to shoot a ton of 3s.”
Lowry acknowledged that Milwaukee’s depth is a concern.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons,” Lowry said. “They’re pretty deep and they shoot the ball as well as anybody, and they’ve got the one-man fast break in Giannis and then they’ve got a point guard (Bledsoe) who’s really, really good and physical. They’ve got George Hill coming off the bench and playing well.”
—Field Level Media