Few gave Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors much of a chance to rally from a 2-0 deficit as a pre-series underdog to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Betting markets had the Raptors at about 12% to advance. After three straight victories, Toronto can now wrap things up on its home court as a short favorite Saturday night (TNT, 8:30 p.m. ET).
Earlier in the series, we discussed how Toronto began exerting its influence. Let’s update the numbers for those key themes.
Slowing Pace: Thursday’s encounter was played at a relative crawl compared to the rest of the series. The first two meetings in Milwaukee had pace factors of 101.2 and 102.2 (possessions per team per 48 minutes). Toronto slowed things down at home to 99.6 and 97.4. Game 5 sunk all the way to 92.6. That fifth game may have been in Milwaukee, but it was played in Toronto’s comfort zone.
We mentioned Thursday that a slow pace helps cut down on Milwaukee’s free throw attempts. Just 18 in Game 5, after 27, 35, 33, and 26 in the prior four. Milwaukee is much more dangerous attacking the basket at speed.
Maintaining an Edge on Treys: This was huge Thursday night. Toronto was 18 of 43 for 41.9% at high volume (the equivalent of hitting 62.8% on two-pointers). Milwaukee was just 10 of 31. So, the Raptors were 24 points from long range in a game they only won by six. For the series, Toronto now leads made treys 74-59, with a 49-35 advantage in its three victories. (In the regular season, Milwaukee averaged 13.5 made treys per game, Toronto 12.4.)
We also talked about tougher defense and improved rebounding. Those weren’t really factors Thursday, beyond the fact that Toronto wasn’t putting Milwaukee on the free throw line. Milwaukee made 53% of its two-point shots and won rebounding 53-45.
Essentially, Toronto played very efficient basketball at a tortoise-slow pace by making 18 treys and only turning the ball over six times. Leonard was a big part of that, shooting 5 of 8 himself from long range while only losing the ball once on a high usage night.
Moments after Game 5 ended, global sports books posted a Game 6 opener of Toronto -2 with an Over/Under of 213.
This series has shown a clear dynamic on totals. Tight games have stayed way Under in regulation, landing on 208, 192, and 204. That 192 soared to 230 because of double overtime. But, it was Under by 30 points at the 48 minute mark, and still Under by 16 points after 53 minutes. The two blowouts landed on 228 and 222.
So, if you picture another slow, half-court battle Saturday night, the Under will deserve some thought. If you believe Milwaukee has lost its mojo, and is about to give up hope…garbage time has an easier time of clearing 213.
Should Milwaukee stay alive, the Bucks would host Game 7 Monday night.