ECF Game 6 Preview: Bucks Face Elimination

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After losing 3 consecutive games for the first time all season, the Bucks have their backs against the wall tonight as they face elimination in Toronto. Game 6 tips off at 7:30 pm/ct on TNT.

It has been a very frustrating and disappointing last few games for Milwaukee, with their latest loss coming in the pivotal Game 5 on Thursday. The Raptors came into Milwaukee and won 105-99, and they now take a 3-2 lead into Toronto where they hope to clinch a trip to the NBA Finals.

For the Bucks in Game 5, their shooting woes and role player struggles continued. They once again failed to shoot over 33% from three, and their bench was outscored 35-15 by Toronto’s second unit. Coming off of a great Game 4 performance, Khris Middleton struggled offensively with just 6 points on 2-9 FG, but he did have 10 rebounds and 10 assists. The rest of the Bucks starters were all solid, as none of them scored fewer than 16 points. Eric Bledsoe had his first good scoring output of the series with 20 points on 6-14 FG, and Malcolm Brogdon bounced back from a poor performance on Thursday to put up 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists. Giannis Antetokounmpo was solid as usual with 24 points, 6 boards, and 6 assists.

Once again, however, the game largely came down to role players and turnovers, two areas where the Bucks were bested by Toronto. Only two bench players scored for Milwaukee, as George Hill had 12 points and Pat Connaughton had 3 points. Besides them, the other Bucks not named Giannis, Middleton, or Bledsoe combined to shoot just 3-14 on threes. Nikola Mirotic and Ersan Ilyasova both finished with 0 points in a combined 20 minutes of play. Meanwhile for Toronto, Fred VanVleet came up huge with 21 points on 7-9 3PT, outscoring the Bucks bench all by himself. With 4 of the 5 Bucks starters putting up solid scoring numbers, the Bucks likely just needed a little more production from their bench to come away with a victory, and once again they did not get it.

As far as turnovers, Milwaukee gave up the ball 11 times (7 from their starting guards) leading to 19 Raptors points, while Toronto turned it over just 6 times, leading to 7 Bucks points. The Bucks now have 44 turnovers in the last three games, and it has been a big reason for their three losses.

Now, the Bucks look to put the last three games behind them and finally get back on track. To come out with a victory, they simply are going to need to shoot the ball better. Milwaukee has hit a cold spell at the worst possible time, and it will be hard to win these last two games if they don’t start hitting a better percentage of their threes. The Raptors defense is collapsing on Giannis whenever he drives, forcing him to kick it out to shooters on the perimeter. The Bucks have made a lot of these threes all season, but now have simply gone cold, and it will be hard to break out of their offensive struggles if they don’t hit more of their threes, as their offensive is largely built around getting open threes. If the Bucks can hit 35+% of their threes tonight, they should be in a good position to win. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, their highest 3P% of the series is 32%.

Another big difference in this series, and in the last three games, has been the point guard matchup. Kyle Lowry has far outplayed Eric Bledsoe so far in this series, and it has been a huge factor. Bledsoe finally had a solid scoring total in Game 5, but he still did not shoot particularly well (6-14 FG, 2-7 3PT), and he turned the ball over 4 times while only having 2 assists. Meanwhile, Lowry is averaging nearly 20 points per game in the series to go along with close to 5 assists, and he has been much more efficient shooting the ball. If Eric Bledsoe can step up and outplay Lowry (and be much more efficient), that alone should be enough to put the Bucks in a good position to win.

The Bucks as a team have hit a cold spell at the worst time, and now they are going to need to get out of it if they want to force a Game 7. Their success all year has come from “letting it fly,” and they will need to rely on that 3-point shooting that has gotten them this far. This isn’t about the refs, this isn’t about Drake, this is about the Bucks stepping up and making shots again like they have all season. The Raptors’ focus on stopping Giannis is going to continue to create looks for others, and they are going to have to start capitalizing on these looks again in order to keep their season alive.

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