Despite an even series and an extremely impressive performance Wednesday night by the Toronto Raptors, who were underdogs at home for the first time, NBA betting odds are still heavily skewed toward the Milwaukee Bucks reaching the NBA Finals.
After the Bucks took Games 1 and 2 at home, the Raptors did the same north of the border, evening the series heading back to Milwaukee for Game 5 on Thursday.
Milwaukee has lost two straight games for just the second time all season but are still heavy favorites at -285 (20/57) in NBA Futures odds on 888Sport to finish off the Raptors and advance to their first NBA Finals since 1974.
Why the Bookies Still Love the Bucks
The reasoning is simple: home-court advantage. The Bucks won 60 games, best in the NBA, and did so largely on their home success. Including the postseason, they’ve gone 39-9, the NBA’s best mark and best since the Warriors in 2017.
Toronto will need to steal a game in Milwaukee to win the series and that feels like a tall order given how good the Bucks have been in the confines of their own arena.
Then again, the Raptors haven’t been bad on the road. Their 29-19 road record is third in the NBA, behind Golden State and Milwaukee. They won at Milwaukee in January and will need to do so again to advance to their first NBA Finals in franchise history.
Toronto Bench Rescues Raptors As Leonard Struggles
It only took 16 games but the Raptors bench finally came alive in their Game 4 victory. Kawhi Leonard continues to look less than 100 percent while dealing with a leg injury, and his 19 points were his second fewest of the postseason.
That normally would have been a recipe for disaster against a prominent Bucks team, but the Toronto bench picked it up in a big way.
#WeTheNorth@sergeibaka (17 PTS, 13 REB), @npowell2404 (18 PTS, 4 3PM), & @FredVanVleet (13 PTS, 6 AST) come up big off the @Raptors bench in the Game 4 W! #NBAPlayoffs— NBA (@NBA) May 22, 2019
Game 5: Thursday (5/23), 8:30pm/et, TNT pic.twitter.com/wFt74lrF0u
Norman Powell, Serge Ibaka and Fred VanVleet combined for 48 points on 18 of 36 shooting off the bench, nearly outscoring their starting three-headed monster of Leonard, Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam (51 points on 15 of 30 shooting).
If Leonard truly isn’t at 100 percent, the bench will be critical for Toronto to any shot in the series. It could be the difference, just like it was in Game 4. Look at the Raptors’ bench scorers in the box score and you’ll have an idea how the team fared.
The bench is averaging 6 more points per game in postseason wins (26.5) than losses (20.0).
Eric Bledsoe Disappears … Again
Point guard Eric Bledsoe took sole responsibility for the Bucks losing last year’s first round series against the Celtics. And if he doesn’t turn things around in a hurry, he may have to admit the same about this series against Toronto.
After averaging 16.0 points on 48% shooting in Rounds 1 and 2, Bledsoe has averaged just 8.3 points on 24.4% shooting against the Raptors.
His teammates are saying the right things, with reserve Pat Connaughton saying the Bucks “wouldn’t be here without” Bledsoe’s contributions and Khris Middleton telling Bledsoe to forget about the past performances.
Antetokounmpo hopes Bledsoe will continue attacking the Raptors defense in hopes of tiring them out over the course of the seven-game series.
As long as Bledsoe runs downhill, he will stay in front. This is a long series and they will get tired ~ Giannis Antetokounmpo on what he hopes for point guard Eric Bledsoe. pic.twitter.com/FR7B7yXyaH— Lori Nickel (@LoriNickel) May 22, 2019
They’ll have to hope that remedies whatever is ailing the $71 million point guard. Though Antetokounmpo, Middleton and Brook Lopez provide plenty of offense, Bledsoe will need to get going at some point soon in the series.
Perhaps Wednesday’s announcement that Bledsoe – along with Antetokounmpo – were both named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team will give him a boost of confidence. The defense has been fine but the offense needs to match it. The series could hinge on it.