Milwaukee Bucks

NBA Playoffs 2019: Can the Toronto Raptors shut down the Milwaukee Bucks' supporting cast?

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez, Ersan Ilyasova [NBA Getty Images]

The Milwaukee Bucks hold a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals heading into Games 3 and 4 in Toronto.

They've won six games in a row, tying a franchise record for consecutive wins in the playoffs. And of course, their MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo has been the ring leader over this stretch.

But he's been the best player in the NBA all season long, which is what you'd expect out of a likely MVP. As the stage gets bigger and brighter, Antetokounmpo has taken his game to incredible levels, averaging 27.0 points, 15.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 2.5 blocks and 1.5 steals through two games of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Even with how well he's played, you could argue that Antetokounmpo hasn't been the most interesting story of this series. Sure, he's solidifying himself as the Eastern Conference's newest terror now that LeBron James is out West, but the difference in this series has been the supporting cast around The Greek Freak.

If the Raptors want to get on the board and take the first step in defending home court, they're going to have to cut off the star player's help by stopping the assets around him - something they've yet to do.

If you were told at the start of this series that through two games, Eric Bledsoe and Khris Middleton would be averaging a combined 20.0 points, with neither player scoring more than 12 points in a single game, you would assume the Raptors would be in pretty good shape - or not down 2-0 to say the least.

Unfortunately for Toronto, that's not the case. They've done a great job holding Bledsoe and Middleton, which neither Detroit nor Boston could do.

Bledsoe has been almost invisible - he's only scored 17 points in two games, shooting 6-for-22 (27.3%) from the field and 1-for-11 (9.1%) from beyond the arc.

Middleton has been quiet, too. He struggled to find a rhythm in Game 1, scoring 11 points on 1-for-6 shooting from long range. He got into a bit of a groove in Game 2, scoring 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting from the field and 2-for-3 from 3-point land, but the rest of the team was so good that they didn't need any more from their second-best player.

Middleton is 9-for-20 (45.0%) from the field and 3-for-9 (33.3%) from the perimeter in this series for a pedestrian 11.5 points per game.

So how has Milwaukee built such a commanding 2-0 lead with their next-best players around their MVP playing mediocre basketball?

Their depth has been the catalyst to their success.

In Game 1, it was Brook Lopez's 29-point outburst. He was the team's leading scorer, going 12-for-21 from the field with four 3-pointers. Their bench didn't have to do too much damage to earn the win - only scoring 22 points - but Malcolm Brogdon showed an encouraging sign that there is no need to shake off any rust - he's right back to the player he was before his injury that held him out for the end of the season and start of the playoffs.

Brogdon scored 15 points off the bench in Game 1 and was a team-best plus-18.

In Game 2, it was a collective effort from four of the Bucks' "other guys." Ersan Ilyasova had a career-game in terms of impact - he scored 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting from the field, drew three charges and finished with a team-best plus-22.

In both Eastern Conference Finals games, Milwaukee's best individual +/- came from a player in their second unit. That's not something you usually see this far into the playoffs.

Their bench put up 54 points in Game 2, outscoring the four Raptors' starters not named Kawhi Leonard 54-33. They got another solid 14 points from Brogdon and 13 points from their hero of the second round, George Hill.

The reserves are clicking on all cylinders offensively, pushing the pace to try and wear out the Raptors even when Giannis isn't on the floor.

According to, with Antetokounmpo on the court the Bucks have played at a pace of 103.3 this series. This is right on par with their average for the regular season, which was fifth-fastest in the league.

When he goes to the bench, Milwaukee plays even faster - their pace increases to 113.3, trying to run Toronto into the ground while their superstar rests. It's worked for them offensively and defensively, so much so that they've actually been better with Antetokounmpo, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, on the bench, turning defence into offence in a hurry.

The Bucks' already impressive 96.2 defensive rating with Giannis on the floor drops even lower to 87.9 with him on the bench.

So along with their offensive success, their supporting cast runs a track meet while playing even tougher defence - this helps explain Milwaukee's success this round.

The Raptors need to find a solution ahead of Game 3 before this series gets out of reach. Head coach Nick Nurse hinted at the potential of "more than one" lineup change after falling down 2-0, with most thinking Marc Gasol and Danny Green could be heading to the bench in favour of Serge Ibaka and Norman Powell.

Could moving Green, who's started in every game he's played for the Raptors, and Gasol, who won the starting centre role after being acquired at the deadline, be the answer to the Bucks' dominance?

It doesn't hurt to try. Balancing out the lineups could throw Milwaukee's rotation and supporting cast through a loop. With the pressure of needing a win to avoid going down 3-0, it might be hard to make those changes now. But the Raptors need to find a solution to winning the minutes when Antetokounmpo isn't on the floor and stopping the players around the MVP candidate before it's too late.

It isn't an elimination game, but trailing 2-0 to a team that hasn't lost three in a row all season makes Game 3 a must-win if Toronto wants to continue its pursuit to its first NBA Finals.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA or its clubs.

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