2017 Playoffs: Round 1 Series Preview
The Toronto Raptors will kick off the 2017 Playoffs on Saturday against the Milwaukee Bucks. The best of seven series will open in Toronto on the Air Canada Centre floor at 5:30 P.M. where the first two games in the series will be played. While the Raptors finished their second consecutive 50-win season, recording a 51-31 record in the regular season, the Bucks own a 42-40 record in the regular season and return to the playoffs after a one-year absence. In Milwaukee's last trip to the postseason in 2014-15, the Bucks lost to the Chicago Bulls 4-2. In 2015-16, the Raptors won a franchise-best 56 games and advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals where they pushed the eventual Champion Cleveland Cavaliers to six games. It was the best postseason in franchise history.
Below, a look at the series awaiting the Raptors.
The Toronto Raptors went 3-1 against the Milwaukee Bucks this season. Their lone loss, in the team's fourth and final regular season meeting, was a 101-94 decision that came while Kyle Lowry was sidelined after wrist surgery. DeMarre Carroll played 19 minutes before spraining his ankle and leaving the game. DeMar DeRozan was held to 11 points in the game while Serge Ibaka led Toronto offensively with 19 points and Cory Joseph added 14. The Bucks were led by Khris Middleton's 24 points while Giannis Antetokounmpo added 21 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot. Spencer Hawes had a 16-point effort off the bench.
In the previous three meetings, Toronto earned a 102-86 victory, a 122-100 blowout win, and a 105-99 decision. In the 102-86 victory, Lowry led the Raptors with 32 points while Norman Powell added 19 as DeMar DeRozan missed the game because of a sprained ankle. In the 122-100 win, the Raptors overcame a 30-point, nine-rebound, five-assist, three-steal performance from Antetokounmpo thanks to 30 points from DeRozan and 25 points off the bench from former Raptors player Terrence Ross prior to the trade deadline. Lowry added 18 points and seven assists while the Raptors were a +29 with him on the floor. Finally, in the first meeting of the season, DeRozan sealed Toronto's victory with a late jumper as he scored 26 points to lead the Raptors. Lowry added 19 points and six assists while the Bucks were led by 29 points and 11 assists from Antetokounmpo and 16 points from Tony Snell.
Trio of All-Stars
The Toronto Raptors backcourt is comprised of three-time All-Stars Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Each player was named to this season's All-Star game in New Orleans. They were joined on the Eastern Conference squad by Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo, a first time All-Star.
While Raptors fans are familiar with Lowry and DeRozan's feats this season, the season Antetokounmpo has put together is a sensational one. In addition to becoming the youngest player in Bucks franchise history to start in an All-star game, the 22-year-old tied Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's career Bucks record of triple-doubles with eight, while also leading the Bucks in every one of the five major statistical categories this season. He led Milwaukee in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to do so, joining Dave Cowens, Scottie Pippen, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James. His 22.9 points, 8.7 rebounds, 5.4 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.9 blocks per game also made him the first player in NBA history to finish in the top 20 in the league in each of the five major categories in a regular season.
Stopping the Bucks will largely depend on slowing Antetokounmpo. Stopping a player that is able to do so many things is all but impossible, but making things more difficult will be the most important thing. Trying to contain and slow him will be crucial. With P.J. Tucker and DeMarre Carroll splitting the duty of guarding Antetokounmpo, they will have their work cut out for them. At 7-foot with a 7-foot-3 wingspan, he's also gifted with the athleticism and grace of a guard and can play any position on the floor, while making it from one end to the other in the blink of an eye.
On Toronto's side of things, Raptors fans know all about DeRozan's magical season. Seven games of 40+, 32 games of 30+, and the franchise's all-time scoring record were highlights in a season where the 27-year-old averaged 27.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists as he led Toronto from opening night onward. Despite a 21-game absence following wrist surgery, Lowry also had a phenomenal year for Toronto, averaging 22.4 points, 7.0 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game. Although Lowry has had just four games to close out the regular season following his absence, he's played well with Tucker and Serge Ibaka, new trade deadline acquisitions for Toronto.
Whatever happens in this best of seven series, the All-Stars for both teams will figure prominently.
P.J Tucker has provided a spark to the Raptors since getting traded to Toronto during the February deadline. He's hustled on defence, found ways to get timely buckets on offence and has a way of challenging his fellow teammates and bringing out the best in them. This will be the first postseason for Tucker. After a long and winding road to get here, he will be rewarded with one of the most difficult tasks anyone will undertake: trying to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo. How Tucker fares will be key for the Raptors.
While many people were (rightfully) caught up watching Joel Embiid's ridiculous rookie season, Milwaukee's Malcolm Brogdon was also piecing together a year worth taking note of in his rookie campaign. Playing 26.4 minutes per game (second among all rookies), Brogdon averaged 10.2 points, 2.8 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 1.1 steals per game while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 30 percent from beyond the arc. The postseason can often be even more of a rollercoaster for rookies than the regular season, but Brogdon's scoring opens things up for the Bucks and he's able to make the open — and correct — pass. Milwaukee was +87 on the season with Brogdon on the floor.
Middleton also a problem
After Khris Middleton missed the first 50 games of the season with a torn hamstring he could be called an X-Factor, but the Bucks were a +90 with him on the floor since he returned to the floor in early February. He's good and important to what the Bucks are looking to do and scored 24 points against the Raptors in his only appearance between the two teams this season. The Bucks went 17-6 with Middleton in the starting lineup. Per NBA.com's John Schuhmann, Milwaukee outscored opponents by 5.7 points per 100 possessions with Middleton on the floor and were outscored by 7.3 points per 100 possessions with him on the bench. Middleton will be big for the Bucks on both ends of the floor against the Raptors.