In the first four games of the Eastern Conference Finals the home teams did as they were expected, holding serve heading into Thursday’s Game 5. Toronto needed at least one road win to advance to the NBA Finals with Milwaukee having home court advantage, and Nick Nurse’s team got the job done. Kawhi Leonard looked fresher and was more effective than he was in Game 4, and Fred VanVleet stepped up with his best scoring output of the postseason. In addition to Game 5 there were also a couple injury updates from the Warriors camp, as the team awaits the start of the NBA Finals.
Raptors 105, Bucks 99
Prior to Game 5 there was a lineup change, with Mike Budenholzer replacing Nikola Mirotic in the starting lineup with Malcolm Brogdon. Brogdon was in the starting lineup prior to the foot injury he suffered in mid-March, but upon his return to action (Game 5 of the second round) the third-year guard was used off the bench. Moving Brogdon into the starting lineup gave Milwaukee another player capable of initiating the offense, a move that needed to be made with Kawhi Leonard being shifted onto Giannis Antetokounmpo defensively.
Brogdon put up a solid stat line, scoring 18 points (8-of-17 FGs) with 11 rebounds, six assists, one steal and two 3-pointers in 34 minutes. Mirotic didn’t adjust well to the lineup switch however, missing all four of his shot attempts and accounting for just two rebounds in his nine minutes on the court. Antetokounmpo, who Budenholzer said he would look to keep between 36 and 38 minutes, played 39 minutes and accounted for 24 points (9-of-18 FGs, 4-of-9 FTs), six rebounds, six assists, two blocks and two 3-pointers.
With a little over a minute remaining he twisted his right ankle while attempting to defend Leonard, and Antetokounmpo would briefly leave the game before returning. He did not receive any medical attention at the time, so this may not be a major issue for Saturday’s Game 6.
Eric Bledsoe and Robin Lopez posted solid stat lines, with Bledsoe tallying 20 points, four rebounds, two assists and two 3-pointers and Lopez putting up 16 points, eight rebounds, one steal and one three-pointer. Overall the Milwaukee starting lineup performed well from a numbers standpoint, but the combination of a quiet scoring night from Khris Middleton and the bench once again being outplayed by Toronto’s reserves proved to the difference. Middleton tallied ten rebounds and ten assists, but he scored just six points on 2-of-9 shooting from the field. This was just the second game this postseason in which he’s failed to get into double figures in shot attempts, with the first being Milwaukee’s comfortable Game 2 win over the Raptors.
As for the bench, outside of George Hill (12 points, eight rebounds, one assist and two 3-pointers) the Bucks did not get much production. Pat Connaughton played 12 minutes, making his lone field goal attempt and finishing with three points, four rebounds, one block and one three-pointer, and both Mirotic and Ersan Ilyasova (one assist in 11 minutes) failed to score. Toronto received 35 points from its reserves, with Fred VanVleet scoring 21. This was the second straight game in which VanVleet, who struggled for much of the post season, has played well off the bench. Thursday night he shot 7-of-9 from three, adding one rebound, one assist and one steal to his stat line.
That performance supplemented the production of Leonard, who led all scorers with 35 points (11-of-25 FGs, 8-of-9 FTs) while also accounting for nine assists (a playoff career-high), seven rebounds, two steals and five 3-pointers in 40 minutes. Nick Nurse gave Leonard the opportunity to sit out pregame shoot-around in order to get some extra rest but the first team All-NBA selection refused, and during Thursday’s game he looked fresher than he did in Game 4. Two starters joined Leonard in double figures, with Kyle Lowry scoring 17 (4-of-11 FGs, 7-of-8 FTs) with seven rebounds, six assists, one steal and two 3-pointers, and Pascal Siakam racked up 14 points (5-of-15 FGs, 2-of-2 FTs), 13 rebounds, two assists, three blocks, one steal and two 3-pointers despite dealing with some early foul trouble.
Marc Gasol and Danny Green both had quiet nights, combining to score four points (all by Gasol) with the starting center grabbing six rebounds, blocking one shot and shooting 1-of-4 from beyond the arc. Green, who’s been a non-factor offensively for much of this series, missed all three of his field goal attempts and accounted for just one rebound and one steal in his 16 minutes on the court. Many of his minutes were absorbed by VanVleet (37 minutes) and Norman Powell, who in 24 minutes accounted for eight points (2-of-7 FGs, 3-of-6 FTs), four rebounds, one assist and one three-pointer. Serge Ibaka played 19 minutes, scoring six points (1-of-4 FGs, 4-of-4 FTs) with six rebounds.
Toronto's rotation, barring injury or a significant amount of foul trouble, is set at this point. Nick Nurse is going eight deep and no further. As for Milwaukee, Antetokounmpo's ankle injury is something to keep an eye on ahead of Game 6. And while moving Brogdon back into the starting lineup worked out for the first five overall, given the bench struggles and Middleton attempting just nine shots this may be a change that Budenholzer reconsiders for Saturday.
Golden State, which wrapped up the Western Conference Finals on Monday, are off until May 30 since the start date for the NBA Finals is set. And that’s good news for Steve Kerr’s team, which is a bit banged up. Andre Iguodala (left calf) did not take part in Thursday’s practice, but the expectation is that he will be available when the Finals begin one week from Thursday. As for DeMarcus Cousins (torn left quad) and Kevin Durant (right calf strain), it’s unlikely that either is on the court for Game 1.
Cousins, per the team release, continues to make progress and practiced with the team for the first time since April 16. The team anticipates that he will be able to play at some point in the NBA Finals, but an exact date for his return has yet to be determined. As for Durant, he still has not been cleared to begin on-court activities, which is a key step to take in his rehabilitation. The hope is that he’ll be able to play at some point in the NBA Finals, but given the lack of on-court work he appears to be further away from a return than Cousins.