);
Playoffs 2019

NBA Playoffs 2019: What to watch in the Eastern Conference Finals between the Raptors and Bucks

leonard-antetokounmpo-ftr.jpg
Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo [NBA Getty Images]

The Toronto Raptors defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 7 to advance to their second Eastern Conference Finals in franchise history.

The Milwaukee Bucks, who defeated the Boston Celtics in five games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, have been ready for their opponent for a few days now.

In a battle between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference all season long, our NBA.com experts take a look at one thing to keep an eye on in this series.

Kyle Irving (@KyleIrv_): Can the Bucks bench keep the same level of production?

Part of the reason the Bucks made quick and easy work of the Celtics was because of the production from their bench: Milwaukee's second unit outscored the Boston's in four of the five games in the series.

George Hill's incredible play led the way; he posted 14.2 points per game on 59.6 percent shooting from the field and 47.4 percent from long range for the series, outplaying Kyrie Irving. He single-handedly outscored Boston's bench in Games 3 and 4, and with Malcolm Brogdon out for the majority of that series, he stepped up in a big way to help his team advance to the Conference Finals.

Pat Connaughton found a way to make an impact in every game, too. Whether it was 3-point shooting, rebounding or just straight up out-hustling guys, Connaughton made his presence felt and his minutes count in every game.

With the return of Brogdon, that Bucks bench grows even deeper. Toronto's second unit had its glaring struggles in the series against the 76ers but was able to overcome it with a couple of solid games from Serge Ibaka, among others.

If Milwaukee's bench keeps the same production, Toronto's bench will have to step up. It could otherwise be the deciding factor in the series.

Scott Rafferty (@crabdribbles): I'm looking forward to seeing how Khris Middleton matches up with Kawhi Leonard.

According to NBA.com, Middleton defended Leonard more than any other defender in the league this season. He limited Leonard to 36 points when they were matched up together, holding him to 11-for-27 shooting from the field (40.7 percent) over three games.

The matchup data isn't perfect, but the video backs some of those numbers up. Middleton is a smart defender when he's locked in and he matches up well enough physically with Leonard to keep up with him.

It helps that Middleton has Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo behind him, both of whom were among the best rim protectors in the league this season.

Will Middleton have similar success in this series? If he does, it would go a long way in slowing the Raptors down because it would prevent the Bucks from having to double team him as aggressively as the 76ers did in the previous round.

Gilbert McGregor (@GMcGregor21): Can Serge Ibaka replicate his regular-season success against Milwaukee?

Ibaka did some of his best work in the regular season against the Bucks, averaging 22.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.8 blocks over four games. Among these games was Ibaka's 30-point, nine-rebound performance (on 12-for-21 shooting) as well as a 25-point, nine-rebound, five-assist performance in Toronto's lone win over Milwaukee this season.

It's no secret that the Raptors second unit has struggled this postseason, but if Ibaka were to reprise his multifaceted role against the Bucks in the Conference Finals it would mean one of two things for the team, both are positive.

Re-inserting Ibaka into the starting unit would mean he would match up with Brook Lopez defensively, which is much more favourable for Toronto as Lopez spends plenty of time on the perimeter, a difficult task for Marc Gasol. Bringing Gasol back off the bench could be positive for the struggling second unit, that could benefit from his playmaking ability and passing skills.

If the lineups remain the same, increased offence from Ibaka can set the tone for the second unit and potentially relieve the pressure placed on Fred VanVleet and Norman Powell to produce.

One way or another, high-level play from Ibaka will influence the Raptors bench to turn it around, which only improves their chances to advance to the Finals.

Benyam Kidane (@BenyamKidane): The point guard matchup between Eric Bledsoe and Kyle Lowry

While Kawhi Leonard and Pascal Siakam have been the undoubted stars of the Raptors' playoff campaign, Kyle Lowry could hold the key to their ability to get past the Bucks.

The point guard had his struggles against the Sixers, at times going missing for long stretches, which were more often the games that ended in losses for the Raptors.

Matching up with Eric Bledsoe in the Eastern Conference Finals will be a tough test for Lowry, with the Bucks point guard fresh off a five-game stretch playing incredible defence against Kyrie Irving and the Boston Celtics.

If Lowry can find ways to score and make Bledsoe work on the defensive end, the Raptors have a legitimate shot to advance to the NBA Finals.

More from NBA.com

#Powell
Powell on Leonard: 'All he wants to do it win'
Benyam Kidane
Kawhi Leonard
'I'm good': Leonard on playing through pain in Game 3
Yash Matange
kawhi-2-041919-ftr-getty.jpg
Kawhi sets Raptors record with sixth 35-point game
Scott Rafferty
#Kawhi
Raptors hang on in 2OT to win Game 3
Benyam Kidane and Scott Rafferty
Kevin Durant, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James
Teams to come back from 0-2 in Conference Finals
Yash Matange
kawhi-041919-ftr-getty.jpg
Kawhi scores 36 points in double overtime thriller
Scott Rafferty
More News