The top two teams in the East will face off in the Conference Final and in contrast to their western counterparts, the Bucks and Raptors win with defense. The playoff advanced stats rating offense and defense heading into these series lay things out oh so clearly:
Teams Offensive Rating Defensive Rating Net Rating
8-1 Bucks 113.4 (2) 98.2 (1) 15.2 (1)
8-4 Raptors 108.5 (9) 100.3 (2) 8.1 (2)
8-4 Warriors 117.4 (1) 111.8 (12) 5.6 (3)
8-4 Blazers 110.8 (5) 109.7 (8) 1.1
(The numbers in brackets represent the ranking versus all 16 playoff teams)
Draw your own conclusions about the Western Conference Finals, but it doesn’t look like the Blazers have enough fire power to get by the Warriors even sans KD.
While the Raptors like to play in transition, they played at a middle of the pack pace during the regular season and the second slowest pace (95.6) of any team during the postseason. The Bucks on the other hand have played fast all year and have played at the second fastest pace (103.3) of the playoff teams and much faster than even the Warriors (99.6).
In no small part pace is why the Raptors have held playoff opponents to a postseason best 96 points per game on average and have only given up more than 100 points four times. The Bucks have only held opponents under 100 points three times, but are still a third best 101.6 points allowed.
“It takes a lot of energy and effort to be great defensively,” Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’re similar offensively — we want to play fast, we want to get out and run and move.”
“It’s a totally different style than we’ve just been through in our last two series,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said. “These were set-play teams, pretty methodical on offense.”
However, getting past the pace of the game, the opponent’s statistics against these two teams are remarkably similar.
by Opponents Bucks Raptors
Opp FG% 39.9% (1) 41.3% (2)
Opp 3FG% 31.7% (4) 31.5% (3)
Pts off TO 14.4 (4) 14.2 (3)
2nd Chance 9.3 (1) 10.3 (2)
Fast Break 12.9 (8) 11.6 (3)
PIP 37.6 (3) 37.3 (2)
Both of these teams have shown they can defend at an elite level, but their success on offense has come differently.
The Raptors rely on the playoffs second leading scorer Kawhi Leonard and he has been a nearly unstoppable force averaging 31.8 points, 53.9 percent shooting and 40.8 percent from three. The second option may be the fastest guy down the court Pascal Siakam averaging 20.8 points, 48.3 percent shooting and 30.9 percent from three.
Milwaukee leans on MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo who averages 27.4 points on 52.6 percent shooting and a developing three-point shot at 32.4 percent. The Bucks second option is the red hot three-point threat Kris Middleton averaging 19.1 points 42.2 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from three, so the Raptors might want to draw on their recent experience defending J.J. Redick to hold him somewhat in check.
Both teams thrive in transition with Antetokounmpo leading the playoffs at 7.4 fast break points per game and Middleton contributing another 4.2 to the Bucks leading 20.6 fast break points. Leonard has been almost as deadly on the break at a third best 4.9 fast break points and Siakam contributing 4.3 to a Raptors third best 16.6 fast break points.
Somewhat surprisingly the Raptors hold the advantage 19.4 (2) to 14.9 (11) in points off turnovers with Leonard leading the playoffs at 5.9.
Not surprisingly, the Bucks get more of their points from the three-point line and the Raptors have thrived in the mid-range.
% of Points Scored Bucks Raptors
3-FG 34.5 (2) 30.9 (8)
Mid-range 6.1 (14) 11.3 (7)
P.I.P. 42 41.4
Fast Break 17.6 (1) 16 (3)
off turnovers 12.7 (12) 18.7 (2)
Toronto has been looking forward to playing at a quicker pace after dealing with the Magic and 76ers in a lot of half court sets, but their strength all season has been controlling the pace of the game and that’s going to be a tall task heading into game one in Milwaukee. Turnovers and three-point shooting are likely to decide this series.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at Scotiabank Arena and is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association.