Bucks, Raptors to begin deciding Eastern Conference title

The Bucks play host to the Raptors on May 15 in Game 1

Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo drives past Boston Celtics’ Aron Baynes during the first half of Game 5 of a second round NBA basketball playoff series Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

There’s a one-name superstar on either side: Giannis and Kawhi. There’s a Milwaukee franchise that hasn’t been to the NBA Finals in 45 years, opposite a Toronto franchise that has never been to the title round. The Bucks have a coach with an economics degree who wasn’t there last year; the Raptors have a coach with an accounting degree who wasn’t the boss last year.

Similarities abound between Milwaukee and Toronto.

Over the next couple of weeks, one team will separate itself.

The top-seeded Bucks play host to the second-seeded Raptors on Wednesday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals. They had the best records in the NBA this season — Milwaukee went 60-22, Toronto went 58-24 — and one of them will have home-court advantage for the NBA Finals starting May 30.

READ MORE: Toronto Raptors’ dramatic win produces record television ratings in Canada

“You can’t get caught up in people’s expectations,” Raptors star Kawhi Leonard said Tuesday. “You’ve got to worry about self-expectations, team expectations, and winning, and that’s what we have to focus on. It doesn’t matter about the one-on-one match-up. This game isn’t a one-on-one basketball game.”

Leonard made the shot that sent Toronto to the conference final, a buzzer-beating corner jumper over Joel Embiid that bounced on the rim four times before dropping. The Bucks, predictably, were impressed.

However, they weren’t rattled. The team with the best regular-season record also has the best record in these playoffs so far at 8-1, and confidence is not in short supply. The Bucks’ only blemish in these playoffs is a Game 1 loss at home against Boston in the second round, a mistake that will be on their minds Wednesday.

“Against Boston, you can go down 1-0 and you’ll still be fine,” Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said Tuesday. “But against Toronto, it’s hard to be in that spot, to lose the first game in your home.”

Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer is acutely aware of all that Leonard brings to the table. He was an assistant in San Antonio when Leonard was getting started there — after the Spurs, somewhat ironically, traded George Hill to Indiana for Leonard’s draft rights. Hill is now the Bucks’ backup point guard.

“He made a great first impression on San Antonio on his teammates, on his coaching staff,” Budenholzer said when asked about his early days with Leonard. “Just the ability to get loose balls, rebounds and all kinds of little things that sometimes go unnoticed. But to think that he was going to evolve to the player he is … I don’t know when that happened.”

Here’s some other things to know going into the Milwaukee-Toronto series:

RARITY

This is the first East final since 2006 where neither coach was leading his respective team a year earlier. Miami’s Pat Riley faced off against Detroit’s Flip Saunders in 2006; Riley was in the Heat front office the previous year, and Saunders was getting fired by Minnesota. Raptors coach Nick Nurse was an assistant with the Raptors under Dwane Casey last season, and Budenholzer was in the final year of his stint with Atlanta.

INJURY WATCH

The Raptors are still without key reserve OG Anunoby (appendectomy), and Nurse said it likely will be at least another week before the team could pinpoint a possible return date. The Bucks will be without Pau Gasol for the rest of the season with a foot injury — so unlike the West final where Golden State’s Stephen Curry meets Portland’s Seth Curry in a brother-brother matchup, the East final will be played without Raptors centre Marc Gasol facing his brother.

POWER MATCHUP

This is the first time an East final has paired teams that posted at least 58 regular-season wins since 2011, when Miami (58-24) beat Chicago (62-20). It’s the 33rd time that a No. 1 seed has faced a No. 2 seed since the 16-team format was put into use in 1984; in the East, No. 2 seeds have beaten No. 1 10 of 18 times, and in the West it’s the No. 1 seeds with an 8-6 edge.

CHASING HISTORY

Toronto has already tied a franchise record with 66 wins this season, counting both regular season and playoff contests. The 2015-16 Raptors went 66-38 overall; these Raptors are 66-28 so far. The Bucks are up to 68 wins this season, fourth-most in franchise history. The 1970-71 Bucks won 78 games, so Milwaukee’s single-season mark is out of reach, but this season’s team could get to No. 2. The 1973-74 Bucks won 70 games and the 1971-72 Bucks won 69.

MONEY MATTERS

The NBA’s playoff pool of bonus money this season is a record $21,676,510, and Milwaukee and Toronto are both assured a significant chunk of that. The Bucks have already claimed $2,516,774 in pool money; the Raptors are up to $1,782,207. The winner of this series is assured $2,543,681 more just for making the NBA Finals — and would get another $1,295,117 for winning the title.

Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

21 years: Grand Chief Stewart Philip to continue leading B.C. Indian Chiefs union

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip acclaimed as president of Union of BC Indian Chiefs

New organic, locally-sourced restaurant opens in Cawston

Don’t miss Row Fourteen’s grand opening at 5 p.m. with music by The Tall Brothers at 8 p.m.

Penticton motorists should expect delays in downtown area

Road repaving and bike lane installation work is set to take place

Man suing Penticton library for almost $20K has to settle for less

A man was suing the City of Penticton Library for almost $20,000 after his backpack was stolen

Fall drawdown at Osoyoos Lake starts

Lakeside residents can expect to see water levels drop six inches over the next week

Bears roaming around Okanagan school, busy neighbourhood

Cubs spotted near elementary school, large bear seen at park

B.C. MLA’s former constituency assistant charged with fraud, breach of trust

Charges announced Sept. 19 more than two years after Martin fired Desmond Devnich for alleged thefts

B.C. salmon farm inspection deal reached with Indigenous people

Monitoring to determine if any Broughton region farms stay open

Vehicle thefts prompt plea from Salmon Arm RCMP

Public asked to help by removing valuables and keys, locking vehicles up

LETTER: Democracy concerns must be addressed

Critical issues keep some from voting

RCMP seize $1.9 million in B.C. traffic stop

The driver and passenger were detained under the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act

Salmon Arm theatre reduces barriers with inclusive opening of Wizard of Oz

Relaxed conventions opens experience to people with autism, dementia, sensory disorders

Yearbook photo surfaces of Trudeau wearing ‘brownface’ costume in 2001

The report describes the occasion as an ‘Arabian Nights’-themed gala event

‘Troubling, insulting’: NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh reacts to Trudeau’s brownface photo

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democrats, responded with a call for love after Trudeau photos surface

Most Read