The Eastern Conference semifinals get underway Saturday when Philadelphia heads to Toronto. Boston travels to No. 1 seed Milwaukee for a series that begins on Sunday afternoon. How will it all play out? Can the Raptors avoid what happened a year ago? Will Boston and Milwaukee go to seven games as they did last year in Round 1? Let’s take a look.
A year ago, Boston was the No. 2 seed and needed a full seven games to dispatch the Bucks in their opening round series. The home team won each game. The Celtics were without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, but Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford took care of business. Don’t expect them to do it again.
The Bucks are a different team than they were a year ago. The addition of Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic, among others, has made Milwaukee extremely versatile. They are not a one-man show. The one man, of course, being MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Adding players like Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova has helped head coach Mike Budenholzer put together an offense that shoots plenty of 3-pointers. In fact, the Bucks shot over 38 3-pointers a game, good for second in the NBA. Expect plenty to fly against Boston especially from Khris Middleton who made 61 percent of his 3s against the Celtics last year.
In three regular season games this year, Milwaukee bested the Celtics twice. Boston’s only win came early in the season giving the Bucks their first loss of the year (after seven straight wins to open the season). Boston will have to find a way to slow down Antetokounmpo who scored 33, 30, and 30 points in the three regular season games. The Greek Freak shot 59 percent from the field against the Celtics in those three games. If that continues, that’s trouble for Boston.
The key for the Celtics is Hayward. After suffering that ugly ankle injury in last year’s season opener, Hayward has progressively gotten better throughout this season. He only averaged 11.5 points per game during the regular season and is at 12.3 for the postseason. When Hayward scores 20 points or more though, Boston is 7-0 this season. While 20 points might be a stretch, consider that Boston is 18-4 when Hayward scores at least 15.
Regardless, Milwaukee has home court advantage in the series. They have one of the game’s best players in Antetokounmpo. The Bucks are the highest scoring team in the league. Still, expect the Celtics, who had a disappointing regular season, to put up a fight. Give Boston a win at home like they did in the regular season and then recall last year.
Of the four conference semifinals series a year ago, three were decided by a 4-1 margin. The Bucks winning in five games at +200 is the safe bet. Don’t expect Milwaukee to take seven games to win (+300) and a sweep just seems unlikely. Play it safe on the Bucks in five.
The heartbreak that is the Raptors in the postseason may come once again in 2019, but it won’t be in the conference semifinals. A year ago, Toronto was the East’s No. 1 seed only to be swept in four games by Cleveland in the semifinals. The year before, it was the same story. The Raptors just haven’t been able to get over the hump. This year, Toronto should have just what it takes to get past the conference semifinal hump.
What the Raptors do have is the right opponent. Toronto beat Philadelphia in three of four regular season matchups. The one loss to the 76ers came when Raptors star Kawhi Leonard did not play. Leonard averaged over 33 points in Toronto’s three wins over Philadelphia.
The big question for Philadelphia surrounds the health of C Joel Embiid. He has battled through a knee injury, and he did miss all of Game 3 in the Sixers opening round series against Brooklyn. Embiid is averaging 24.8 points and 13.5 rebounds in the postseason, but Toronto matches up well.
The Raptors have two guys that can hound Embiid – Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol. In the two games that Gasol faced Embiid, he was able to hold the Philadelphia center to just 33.3 percent shooting. That means the rest of the Sixers’ lineup will have to come through. And that is where the problem lies when considering NBA betting.
While Philadelphia’s starting five is outstanding, the Raptors go much deeper in bench talent. With Embiid not at 100 percent and Toronto’s Pascal Siakam averaging 22.6 points and 8.4 rebounds in the postseason, expect the Raptors to make the Eastern Conference Finals.
A sweep at +700 odds? Not with Philadelphia’s talent. While Toronto has had the Sixers’ number this season, head coach Brett Brown and company will keep it close. Look for the Raptors to win in seven games at +450 odds.
NBA EXACT SERIES ODDS – EASTERN CONFERENCE
Bucks Win 4 Games +700
Bucks Win 5 Games +200
Bucks Win 6 Games +400
Bucks Win 7 Games +300
Celtics Win 4 Games +2500
Celtics Win 5 Games +1250
Celtics Win 6 Games +450
Celtics Win 7 Games +850
76ers Win 4 Games +1750
76ers Win 5 Games +850
76ers Win 6 Games +450
76ers Win 7 Games +600
Raptors Win 4 Games +700
Raptors Win 5 Games +200
Raptors Win 6 Games +250
Raptors Win 7 Games +450
Article by Rick Bouch
Posted April 26th, 2019