The Milwaukee Bucks are who we thought they were.
The No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, who operated in fits and starts throughout the playoffs despite cruising through two initial series, are now in firm command of the Toronto Raptors. Giannis Antetkounmpo and the Bucks beat Kawhi Leonard and his Raptors, 125-103, to take a 2-0 lead on Friday.
Milwaukee jumped out of the gate, scoring 35 points in the first quarter and limiting Toronto to just 21. On a night in which Antetkounmpo was announced as finalist for both the NBA MVP and the Defensive Player of the Year awards, the Bucks’ defense slowly took hold. The Raptors scored just 18 in the second quarter, ending the first half with a 15-point deficit.
For the Raptors, it was a night of hyperbole. Often criticized for being a squad not up to the snuff of their star, Toronto gave its haters fodder in Game 2. Leonard, who finished with 31 points, eight rebounds, and two assists, was the only productive offensive player. Kyle Lowry added 15 points on 4-of-13 shooting, and much of Toronto’s contributing cast could hardly be seen. Marc Gasol had a particularly difficult night, scoring two points on 1-of-9 shooting.
The Bucks were quite the opposite, with three bench players scoring in double-digits. It was a more concerted team effort by Milwaukee, who ended the night +8 in assists and +13 in rebounding differential. Antetkounmpo’s squad also finished with just seven turnovers compared to Toronto’s 13.
Antetkounmpo was the star of the night, scoring 30 points to go with 17 rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal on 50 percent shooting. The leading MVP candidate was everywhere, and it appeared Toronto was in trouble right from the get-go. On the first possession of the game, Antetkounmpo bullied Pascal Siakam down low, missing his shot high off the backboard but immediately grabbing his own miss for a putback dunk.
The rest of the Bucks cast cruised off Antetkounmpo’s excellent play, but no one was more surprising that Ersan Ilyasova. The Milwaukee reserve scored 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, grabbing three rebounds to go with two assists and two steals. It was his best playoff game this season, and the first time Ilyasova scored more than 17 points since Oct. 29 against… the Raptors.
Folks at the Air Canada Centre will be rowdy and raucous on Sunday for Game 3, but Friday night was a statement for Antetkounmpo and the Bucks. They’re the best team in the East, and with a commanding 2-0 lead heading back to Ontario, it’ll be time for Leonard and his understaffed crew to prove the Raptors are worthy of knocking the Greek Freak off his throne.