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Winners and Losers: The Bucks Look Historically Dominant

Milwaukee is slowly proving its league-best regular season was no fluke. A Game 2 blowout of the Raptors improved its series advantage to 2-0 and its playoff record to 10-1. Here’s the best and worst from the proceedings.

Toronto Raptors v Milwaukee Bucks - Game Two Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The good, the bad, and the dominant of the Milwaukee Bucks’ 125-103 victory against the Toronto Raptors in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Winner: The Bucks’ System

With less than five minutes remaining in the second quarter, Brook Lopez went to the scorer’s table. It took him subbing in for me to realize what that meant: George Hill, Malcolm Brogdon, Ersan Ilyasova, Nikola Mirotic, and Lopez would be the five Bucks players sharing the court. Mike Budenholzer sent relief in the form of Giannis Antetokounmpo a minute and some change later, but he could’ve kept the group together longer. Giannis has been the driving force of the Bucks’ dominant postseason, but by the half—of the Eastern Conference finals—the game’s leading scorers were two Bucks reserves and one role player: Ilyasova and Mirotic had 15 points each, and Brogdon had 12.

Friday was Brogdon’s third game this postseason. He tore the plantar fascia in his right foot on March 15, and on May 5, nearly eight weeks later, he returned for Game 5 of Milwaukee’s second-round series against the Celtics. Given how well the Bucks were already playing, his return was more of a bonus than a necessity. But through two games of this Raptors series, he’s shown he’s one of the most important players surrounding Antetokounmpo.

We often joke that Brogdon is one of the worst Rookie of the Year winners in recent history, but he still brings a lot to the table. The 26-year-old is a facilitator and a shooter, and both skills are crucial in Budenholzer’s system. On Friday, Brogdon finished with 14 points (5-for-10 shooting from the field and 3-for-6 from deep), five assists, four rebounds, and a steal.

Things were clicking for Milwaukee long before Brogdon went down, and continued to click long after he was sidelined. His return makes a scary team scarier, and the best team in the regular season an even more legitimate title contender. Per ESPN’s Kirk Goldsberry, the Bucks have the third-largest point differential through 11 games in NBA postseason history with plus-168, trailing only the 2000-01 Lakers (plus-170) and the 2016-17 Warriors (plus-182). A major factor in that historic point differential is Milwaukee has lost only one game this postseason, which is a pretty Warriors-esque feat in itself. As individuals, this supporting cast—Hill, Lopez, Brogdon, Mirotic, Ilyasova, even Eric Bledsoe—wouldn’t be enough to complement Giannis’s greatness. But the pieces add up, and a piece like Brogdon counts for a lot.

Winner: Ersan, the OG Buck

I don’t think “brave” when I think of Ilyasova. It’s just not what comes to mind when thinking of the Turkish stretch 4, who I associate more with being a savior for last season’s Sixers, a quality 3-point shooter, and the Buck who returned home after years as an NBA journeyman. Milwaukee drafted the rights to Ilyasova in 2005; he played his first season there in 2006-07; and after two more years abroad, he was a frequent starter for the franchise until 2014-15.

So, again: Journeyman, yes. Turkish, yes. Sharpshooter, most of the time. But Ilyasova is also the bravest man in the NBA—at least when faced with the prospect of another man barreling into him. Ilyasova led the league in charges drawn this season with 50. The next highest total was Blake Griffin with 31.

“Will Ersan be remembered more as a basketball player that can be a stretch forward, make 3s, do this and that?” asked Pat Connaughton last month. “Or as the best charge-taker in the entire history of the game?” (Is there a Basketball-Reference qualifier for recency bias?)

In Game 2, Ilyasova stood his ground once again, drawing three fouls (bringing his postseason total to six), which was clearly a game high and a nice defensive complement to his offensive production of 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting (and three rebounds, two assists, and two steals) off the bench.

Ilyasova can be a frustrating player. Like most guys coming off the bench, he floats in and out of solid stretches. But he definitely makes the starting five for this postseason’s All-Team Doesn’t Show Up in the Box Score guys with his charges, his screens, and yes, his defense.

Loser: Pascal Siakam, the Raptor Wing Who’s Staying for Sure

Siakam hasn’t exactly been the revelation this series that he had been all season. Game 2 was his second questionable scoring night in a row: seven points, 4-for-9 from the field, and 0-for-2 from behind the arc. He didn’t take a single trip to the line, and fouled out with more than five minutes remaining. The timing didn’t matter, really, as Toronto was down 110-92, but it was the cap on an evening when Siakam was aggressive in all the wrong places.

Raptors optimists see Siakam as a consolation prize for whatever happens with Kawhi Leonard in free agency. I called him Leonard Lite; I’d still call him Leonard Lite. Those flashes of brilliance don’t go away with a pair of unfortunate games, especially considering Siakam may be dealing with the lingering effects of a calf injury from the Sixers series. Yet down 0-2 against what’s looking like an all-powerful Bucks team, it’s hard to rally around the fact that Siakam will be back next season. Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum broke out in “Future Clipper” chants directed at Kawhi at one point, which is an NBA Twitter a thing to chant and depressing for Toronto—if it can’t pull off an NBA Finals appearance with Leonard, it certainly won’t be able to without him.

Siakam didn’t take the second-most field goal attempts behind Leonard on Friday, as he often did during the regular season, especially in the season’s second half. That was Kyle Lowry, who took 13 shots. Despite Lowry’s surge last game, he isn’t going to be the secondary scorer Leonard can count on each game. And, unlike Milwaukee, Toronto’s bench isn’t going to be much help, either. Five Bucks took more field goal attempts than Siakam in Game 2. That can’t happen in Toronto if the Raptors want to take both games on their home floor.