THE Golden State Warriors will be savouring all this. The appetising sight of the Eastern Conference’s last two pugilists standing, throwing blows at one another and sapping energies while the West’s winners lounge ringside with a glass of chilled champagne in their hands.
By the time the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors have resolved their coastal dispute, they could be punch drunk and a candidate for an easy knockout for the reigning NBA champions. And with the East Finals now, effectively, a best-of-three which recommences on Thursday, only one of the two teams which will contest the title will arrive with a degree of rest and recuperation.
Not that the Warriors, now 1.42 for a three-peat, don’t utterly welcome the extended break ahead of the outset of the 2019 Finals on May 30. Extra opportunity for Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala and DeMarcus Cousins to heal amid a variety of possible timetables for their respective returns.
— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 22, 2019
Yet, the East plays perfectly into their hands. And the very best either the Bucks or Raps can hope for is a quick kill at Saturday’s Game 6 and then a re-focusing for a championship round that will commence on their own floor.
Unlikely, based on the four contests to date which have all fallen the way of their hosts. But although Milwaukee appeared well primed when they went 2-0 ahead, the manner in which their Canadian chums have condemned their foes to consecutive defeats for the first time this season to level the series has given pause for concern.
If the double overtime Game 3, like Game 1, was a duel of small margins which might have fallen either way, then Wednesday’s 120-102 reverse was perhaps the first time in which the Bucks looked troublingly mortal.
Defensively ragged. Offensively stagnant with the Raptors’ classy group of All-NBA stoppers clicking cohesively in the manner they would wish. Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdan, very much X-factors on numerous occasions, pinned to a combined 4-18 from the field. Giannis Antetokounmpo corralling 25 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and a steal over 30 minutes but not permitted to dominate and not given enough support.
Bucks-Raptors living up to the hype
22.8 PTS | 16.0 REB | 3.0 BLK
29.3 PTS | 8.3 REB | 2.3 STL pic.twitter.com/2eJZDJEpGy
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 22, 2019
The same lack of assistance has often eluded Kawhi Leonard but the Toronto supporting cast have returned to their vengeful selves which gives the Bucks ample headaches as they head home, even though they are 1.34 to grab a 3-2 advantage.
This still feels like a bout that will go the full distance, with the Raps terrific value at 5.75 to prevail in seven. It might yet come down to who has just enough in the tank to fill their boots. Looking ahead, the cloud lingering over Golden State if Durant does not speedily return, will offer the eventual East champion a degree of optimistic hope.
Unlike Zion Williamson, who is an unbackable 1.01 to be top pick in the forthcoming NBA Draft, there will be no guarantees once the Finals tip off.
Best bet: Take over 220 total points in Game 5 of Milwaukee – Toronto at 2.12