It’s all knotted up at two wins apiece in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals heading into Thursday’s pivotal fifth game (TNT, 8:30 p.m. ET).
Toronto is still a clear market underdog to Milwaukee. But the Raptors have increased their chances to advance from about 12% after losing the first two games to a more manageable 27% now.
How did Toronto get back into the series?
Slowing Pace: You don’t want to run with Milwaukee! The first two games had pace factors of 101.2 and 102.2 (possessions per team over 48 minutes). In Toronto, that slowed to 99.6 and 97.4 (accounting for double overtime Sunday). That had fringe benefits of cutting down on cheap Bucks baskets and reducing free throw attempts (62 for the Bucks in Milwaukee, 59 in Toronto even with 10 extra minutes).
Tougher Defense: Sunday, the Raptors held the Bucks to just 41% on 2-point baskets while forcing 20 turnovers. Numbers weren’t quite as impressive in Game 4, but the Bucks only managed 23.7 points per quarter in Tuesday’s second, third and fourth stanzas when the game was being decided.
Maintaining an edge on treys: Milwaukee made more treys per game during the regular season. In this series, Toronto currently leads 56-49 thanks mostly to a 31-25 advantage in its two victories.
Improved Rebounding: Toronto was humbled 113- 86 on the boards in its losses at Milwaukee. This stat stabilized north of the border, with a tighter Bucks edge of 103-99. Milwaukee is an elite rebounding team, so that’s a respectable Raptors’ effort.
Adjustments worked: Now the ball is back in Milwaukee’s court. Literally. Can the Bucks find a way to push pace and fly at the basket at home? Can they force more misses on treys and grab them?
Betting markets know the Bucks have been money-makers at home throughout the playoffs (6-1 straight up and against the spread).
Thursday’s line will likely close around Milwaukee -6.5 to -7. Should the series go the distance, that’s a fair guess for the Bucks at home in Game 7. And it’s a big hint explaining why the Bucks are still about 73% to advance.
We know for sure there will be a sixth game Saturday. It will be fascinating to see how oddsmakers and sharps “split the difference” from the first two games in Toronto. The Raptors were -3 in their “backs to the wall in front of a boisterous crowd” home opener, but then 3 after a six-point adjustment when many assumed the Bucks would regain their footing.
Some sportsbooks have already posted early betting lines for a projected Milwaukee/Golden State final. Bets would be refunded if the Bucks don’t make it. The Westgate in Las Vegas went up at Golden State -180 (you must risk $180 to win $100 to bet Golden State, or anything in that ratio). Milwaukee would return 160. Offshore sites were as high as Golden State -210.
Should Toronto continue its surge, Golden State would likely be much higher than -200 over the Raptors to claim another Larry O’Brien Trophy. The Warriors reminded oddsmakers, bettors and TV pundits that they didn’t need Kevin Durant to dominate. TNT’s Charles Barkley and others were pontificating gloom and doom for Golden State when Durant injured his calf.
The Warriors haven’t lost since! Steph Curry, Draymond Green and the rest of the Warriors reminded everyone that this was a championship team before Durant arrived, and may still be one if he leaves to play for the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets next season.