ECF Game 5 Preview: Bucks Return Home

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After losing games 3 and 4 in Toronto, the Bucks are back home to face the Raptors in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals tonight with the series now tied 2-2. This will be a crucial game, as the winner of Game 5 of a series tied 2-2 goes on to win the series over 80% of the time. Tip time is 7:30 pm/ct on TNT.

Game 4 was another frustrating one for the Bucks, ending in a 120-102 loss. The loss marked just the second time all season that they’ve lost back-to-back games. All-Star Khris Middleton was one of the lone bright spots for Milwaukee, finishing with 30 points and 7 assists on 11-15 FG, and Giannis Antetokounmpo rebounded from his disappointing Game 3 performance to put up a solid 25 points and 10 rebounds, but it still was not a great game by his standards. Besides Khris and Giannis, there wasn’t much to get excited about — no other player scored more than 11 points, and Malcolm Brogdon especially struggled, scoring just 4 points on 2-11 shooting.

The Raptors had a much more balanced effort in Game 4, with 6 players scoring 13+ points. Kyle Lowry led their scoring with 25 points, and Pascal Siakam added 15 points and 6 rebounds. An injured and fatigued Kawhi Leonard also put up 19 points and 7 rebounds, and Marc Gasol had his second-straight good game with 17 points, 7 assists, and 5 rebounds. One of the biggest factors in the Toronto victory was bench scoring. Shockingly, the Raptors’ bench far outplayed the Bucks’ second unit, and they won the bench scoring battle 48-23 after being outscored by double digits in that category in each of the first three games. Serge Ibaka was huge coming off the bench, ending with 17 points and 13 rebounds in by far his best game of the series so far. Normal Powell also had 18 points, and Fred VanVleet contributed with 13 points on 5-6 FG and 3-3 3PT.

The series now shifts back to Milwaukee, where the Bucks are 6-1 this postseason and have won by an average of 15.7 points per game. For the Bucks to regroup and get back to their winning ways tonight, they will obviously be hoping to get out of their three-point shooting slump. As a team, they are now shooting a mere 29.9% on threes in the series, and have shot no better than 32% from three in any of the four games thus far. Milwaukee has relied heavily on three-point shooting this season, and if they can get back to making a solid percentage of them, it will help open up the floor for Giannis to create and make plays like he has all season. Eric Bledsoe will also hope to get out of his slump. In the series, he is averaging just 8.3 points on 24% shooting, and he is 2-19 on threes (11%). He has not scored more than 11 points in any of the four games and will need to step up his play, especially his shooting if the Bucks are going to get back to playing near their best.

Free throw shooting will be another point of emphasis heading into Game 5, and it is something that hopefully will improve now that the Bucks are back home. Milwaukee shot 67% on free throws in Game 3 and 65% in Game 4, with Giannis, in particular, going 8-17 (47%) in those two games. Much of this can be attributed to playing on the road, and Giannis has shot 74% from the line in the last 4 home playoff games, so hopefully, home-court will continue to be advantageous for his free-throw shooting and for the team as a whole.

The Bucks got thoroughly outplayed in Toronto, plain and simple. Now, it is time to find out if they can respond to adversity, as some of the pressure has shifted back to them in this series. They have yet to lose three games in a row this season and will be looking to continue that trend to take a 3-2 series lead into Toronto.

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