The Eastern Conference Finals is now a best-of-3.
After dropping the first two games, the Toronto Raptors bounced back with a gritty Game 3 win and a commanding Game 4 win to even the series at two games apiece.
Now, as the series shifts back to Milwaukee, the Conference Finals has a much different outlook compared to when the Bucks got out to a commanding 2-0 lead.
Ahead of a pivotal Game 5, we asked some of our experts for updated series predictions based on what they've seen through four games…
Micah Adams ( @MicahAdams13 ): Raptors in 6.
Midway through Game 4, it dawned on me: the Raptors have figured out the Bucks.
Kawhi Leonard guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo is a problem for the Bucks. He's quick enough, long enough and strong enough to stay attached to Antetokounmpo's hip on drives and unless the MVP frontrunner starts draining jumpers - a shot that Toronto will gladly let him shoot - I'm not sure what recourse exists. The Raptors are playing incredible team defence on the Greek Freak, building a wall in transition to stop those end-to-end forays to the rim and helping from the right spots.
When the Raptors do force a miss either by Antetokounmpo himself or on a kick out, they're limiting extra opportunities as the Bucks' second-chance points have dwindled from 24 to 17 to 16 to 10.
Every once in a while, it takes a couple of games to manifest before the light bulb goes off and a team simply solves the riddle. Sometimes, it's a matter of surviving long enough to stop the hole from becoming too deep. Toronto survived that 2-0 deficit, evened the series and just might be in the driver's seat heading into what is now a best-of-3.
Gilbert McGregor ( @GMcGregor21 ): Raptors in 7.
I suspected this would be the case prior to the series, but the way I envisioned it happening has changed based on the Raptors response to falling behind by two games early on. The Raptors, who are a solid road team, must find a way to win at least one game at Fiserv Forum to advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
I think they'll do it twice.
I fully expect the momentum from Game 4 to carry on to Game 5, where Toronto "steals" a win in Milwaukee to take a commanding series lead. In Game 6, the Bucks will show just why they had the best record in the league during the regular season and grind out a road win to force a decisive Game 7, where anything goes.
Game 7 is where I envision the Raptors experience and being battle-tested will prevail as the team will grind out a victory similar to the way they did in Game 7 against the 76ers. There's a reason why winners of pivotal Game 5s win 82% of the time, and I think the Raptors taking a series lead will be what lifts them over the Bucks.
Carlan Gay ( @TheCarlanGay ): Before the series started, I had the Bucks in 6.
I thought they would've been too deep for the Raptors. I thought Giannis would've figured out a way to still impose his will on the games and I thought the team would shoot great from three.
All those things may still be true as the series shifts to a best-of-3 scenario, but I don't feel as confident in my prediction as I did before.
I'll be honest for a second, the fan in me wants the Raptors to make the Finals more than anything. So for that reason, I have to give a non-answer: I can see the series going both ways, so let me just enjoy the rest of the series, and get back to me when it's over.
Scott Rafferty ( @crabdribbles ): I'm sticking with the prediction I made heading into the series - Raptors in 7.
Like Micah, I do think the Raptors have sort of figured out the Bucks. But I also think there are ways the Bucks can improve on both ends of the floor, particularly on defence. Even though their game plan is to make others beat them, they were overhelping in Game 4, which led to a number of wide open 3s by the Raptors.
They also generated decent looks for themselves in Game 4 that they just couldn't make. According to NBA.com , they were 4-for-15 (26.7 percent) on wide open 3s compared to 10-for-26 (38.5 percent) by the Raptors.
I think more attention to detail will be enough for them to win Game 5 at home. I could then see the Raptors winning Game 6 in Toronto, setting the stage for a Game 7 in Milwaukee.
And as much as whatever leg injury Kawhi Leonard is dealing with concerns me, I, like Gil, prefer their odds in a win-or-go home game.