Memorial Day Weekend Update
There's gonna be some hoops history served up on this Memorial Day weekend, one way or the other:
Either the Toronto Raptors - up three games-to-two in their best-of-seven NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks - are gonna win in either Saturday's Game 6 or Monday's Game 7 and thus make it to the franchise's first NBA Finals (the Raptors were born in 1995, remember) or the aforementioned Bucks are gonna eventually make it to their first league finals in 45 years.
Let's just say it ain't gonna be easy for either squad as they resist all temptations to look ahead at a showdown with the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors ... remember them?
True, the Raptors have shown true grit in winning / covering the last three in a row in this series with a blanket-like defense that's generally confounded Milwaukee superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and there is no question that Toronto's momentum plus the home-court advantage here in Game 6 is vital ... but, then again, Toronto's only a 2.5-point betting favorite for this Game 6 tilt and in-the-know bettors realize the Bucks are a league-best 9-4 ATS (against the spread) as pups this season (a sizzling .692 winning rate). But how do the Bucks turn this thing around following back-to-back-to-back losses by 6 (in double-OT), 18 and 6 points? Some ideas just below
On Saturday night, it's ...MILWAUKEE at TORONTO - 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT / Raptors lead series 3-2
Since Game 3 in this series, the defensive strategy of the Raptors has been to "build a wall" with a rather air-tight 3-2 zone that simply doesn't allow Mr. Antetokounmpo much room to maneuver once he gets to the top of the key. The vice-like grip has forced the "Greek Freak" to attempt tough, contested shots in the paint or else get up into the air and look for an open teammate. One problem with that is Khris Middleton - just 2-of-9 field-goal shooting for 6 points in that Game 5 loss on Thursday night - has not been really aggressive in looking for his shot while the much-discussed Bucks' bench has run way too hot-and-cold for coach Mike Budenholzer's liking.
Here's three things that - we believe - the underdog Bucks need to do in order to force a Game 7 come Monday night in Milwaukee:
First, they must throw constant double-teams at Raptors' megastar Kawhi Leonard and do a better job denying him the ball. Note that in the 105-99 win in Game 5, Leonard scored a game-high 35 points (15 in the final quarter of play) but he also chipped in a team-high 9 assists, so that means Leonard was responsible for or at least partly responsible for 44 of his team's points (or 42 percent of Toronto's production);
Second, Milwaukee must put Malcolm Brogdon back on the bench so that he and George Hill can give the Bucks that energy jolt when a couple of the starters get a blow. If we had to put an absolute number on it, then we'll say Brogdon / Hill / fellow reserve Ersan Ilyasova (who went scoreless in 11 silent minutes in Game 6) must score in the neighborhood of 40+ points;
Finally, the Bucks can make no excuses if they don't win the hustle plays here in Game 6. As we pointed out in yesterday's version of Jim Sez, Milwaukee collected just two blocked shots and two steals in that rather stunning loss ... say what! The Bucks need to need to win this "hustle" category - remember Toronto had 6 steals and 4 blocks in Game 6.
Here's the NBA Eastern Conference Finals game-by-game results between the Bucks and the Raptors. Note that home teams are in CAPS below:
|5-19||TORONTO||- 2.5||Milwaukee||118-112 (2OT)|
THE BASEBALL REPORT
It's a jam-packed Memorial Day weekend on the diamond where - believe it or not - the Minnesota Twins (34-16, .680) own the best record in baseball while ranking first in the bigs in home runs (101) and runs scored (300) but how about the fact Minny sports the 9th-best team ERA (3.89) and raise your hand if you knew RHP Jake Odorizzi is 6-2 with a 2.38 ERA or that LHP Martin Perez is 7-1 with a 2.95 ERA or that reliever RHP Blake Parker is a perfect 8-for-8 in save opportunities - can you imagine the Twins sporting three All-Star Game pitchers this July? Wow ...
And in the National League, one series worth eyeballing this weekend is the Atlanta Braves (29-23) at the St. Louis Cardinals (25-25) as these clubs clash while heading in opposite directions: The Braves had won seven of their last 10 coming in to Busch Stadium before Friday's 5-2 win and note Atlanta's 15-11 away ... that's tied with Pittsburgh's 15-11 road mark and note that new-kid-on-the-block Austin Riley has five home runs in his first 10 games while the Cardinals have dropped eight of their last 11 tilts and St. Loo has a leadoff hitter in Matt Carpenter batting just .210 (did not bat leadoff on Friday) and 1B Paul Goldschmidt is just 5-for-27 in his last eight games with no home runs just one RBI.