The Toronto Raptors’ win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals Tuesday evening put even more pressure on the Milwaukee Bucks.
Not only was it a blowout home win for Toronto, the series is now tied at two games apiece after Milwaukee took what was seemingly a commanding 2-0 lead.
Now heading into Game 5 on Thursday, there’s a lot to look at. Is Kawhi Leonard anywhere near 100%? How will the Bucks’ tandem at point guard perform after struggling in Game 4?
These are among the five biggest X-factors for the remainder of the Eastern Conference Finals.
Giannis Antetokounmpo’s aggressiveness
Let’s pull the scab off right away. A true MVP candidate, the Greek Freak has failed to maintain the same aggressiveness that helped him dominate during the regular season. Through four games in this series, Antetokounmpo is averaging just 17 shots per outing. He took a ridiculous seven three-pointers in Milwaukee’s blowout loss Tuesday evening.
Not only does Antetokounmpo have to stop settling, he must become the clear-cut No. 1 option on offense. That means 20-plus shots per outing and fewer three-point attempts. He’s a matchup nightmare. It’s high time Giannis starts acting like it.
Kawhi Leonard’s injury
If you watched Game 4 Tuesday, it was hard to ignore just how much Leonard was limping throughout the evening. While he stated prior to the game that he was more than ready to go, the impending free agent was nowhere near 100%.
Despite this, Leonard seemed to play pretty well. He took only 13 shots, hitting on six of them. Not tremendous splits. But the Raptors were plus-16 in the 34 minutes he played. Healthy or not, Leonard proved to be a difference-maker. It will be interesting to see how he looks at the onset of Game 5. It will be a major X-factor.
Malcolm Bragdon and Eric Bledsoe
Brogdon looked great in the first four games since he came back from injury. That span saw the former NBA Rookie of the Year average nearly 15 points on 50% shooting from the field, including a tremendous 44% mark from three-point range. Unfortunately, he could not duplicate this success in Game 4. Brogdon shot just 2-of-11 from the field and scored four points. Milwaukee was minus-10 in the 27 minutes he played. Comparatively, the team was a combined plus-50 in Brogdon’s first four games.
Not only are the Bucks going to need more from Brogdon, Bledsoe must also raise the level of his game in a big way moving forward. Following a career-best regular season, Bledsoe is shooting just 24% percent in this series. That also needs to change if the Bucks are going to avoid blowing a 2-0 series lead.
Raptors’ veteran bigs
Marc Gasol called himself out after scoring a grand total of eight points and shooting 3-of-20 from the field over the first two games. He’s responded big time, averaging 16.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.0 assists over the past two outings.
Likewise, Serge Ibaka has also stepped up his game. He went for 17 points and 13 rebounds in Game 4. The Raptors were also a resounding plus-24 in the time Ibaka was on the court. If these two continue to play at this level, Toronto will be in good shape.
For the first time all series, Toronto’s bench outperformed a much deeper Bucks second unit in Game 4. Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet combined for 48 points on 18-of-36 from the field. Each of them were at least plus-25 when on the court.
On the other hand, Milwaukee’s bench struggled. We mentioned Brogdon’s issues before. However, George Hill and Pat Connaughton were even bigger issues. They provided absolutely nothing off the bench. Milwaukee will only win this series if its bench does better. It’s that simple.