The NBA Championship is just around the corner and we will know very soon who the two best teams of the season are. There have been many very strong squads that played well all year to fall short in the playoffs. The Bucks were favored to win it all at one point, as were the defending champions of 2019, the Toronto Raptors. A lot has happened this year and keeping track of it all has been a full-time job in itself.
Now we’re on to the Conference Finals and ultimately, any team could pull ahead and win it all. The Los Angeles Lakers possibly have the strongest basketball betting odds of the bunch, but even then there is no sure thing. This is what makes the playoffs so exciting. Any team can find the momentum and sweep the competition. With that in mind, where did it go wrong for these other hopeful squads that couldn’t make it happen?
As the 2019 champions, many fans were hoping we would see the Raptors at least defend their title in the championship series, but unfortunately, it was not meant to be. After completely outclassing the Brooklyn Nets in a 4-0 series, they moved on to face the Celtics in what was a huge step up in competition. Ultimately the Raptors lost to the Celtics in a 4-3 series. So, where did it go wrong for them?
After losing Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green at the end of last season, many analysts believed that the Raptors wouldn’t be able to make it to the playoffs again. Leonard himself even reportedly told the team that he “didn’t think they were good enough” to make a repeat appearance.
While they still showed great heart making it as far as they did, fans are looking for someone to direct their anger towards. It seems a lot of that blame has fallen on forward Pascal Siakam lately. There is no denying that he underperformed against the Celtics and ultimately the entire playoffs. His average was a paltry 15 points, a far cry away from his normal season performance. While it’s clear that he was somewhat of a weak link, perhaps all of the blame shouldn’t fall on Siakam. The Raptors need some new talent on the team to come back strong next year.
The Bucks, led by superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo, were labeled as the favorite to win the championship since the season began. For the most part, it looked like that was surely going to be the case. Their regular season was filled with stellar performances and triumphs over their conference rivals, and they maintained the best winning percentage in the league. After sweeping the Orlando Magic in a 4-1 series, it all fell apart once they faced the Miami Heat.
Before the playoffs matchup, the Heat already had a gameplan to beat the Bucks. In the regular season, they had beaten them both times they faced, and this experience certainly helped them in the postseason. While other teams seemed terrified of the Bucks, the Heat just showed up and played basketball and were ultimately winning the individual matchups. They found a way to utilize their player’s strengths at the right moments to pull ahead in every game.
With Jimmy Butler, Tyler Herro, Duncan Robinson and others, the Heat had a solid lineup and always made sure to play their own game, not the Bucks. Instead of getting steamrolled, the Heat kept up a steady, consistent pace.
So where did the Bucks really start to fall apart? When the Bucks put their five best players on, the Heat matched them, but the Bucks’ secondary was noticeably worse than the Heat’s. The Bucks are used to playing aggressive basketball and didn’t have a strategy to fall back on once it was clear it wasn’t working. Disaster struck in the worst moment when Antetokounmpo faced an ankle injury midway through the series.
Once Antetokounmpo went down in games 3 and 4, the Bucks really could not get their offense going. There was no one to step up and take charge. As much as fans don’t want to believe that the team’s success revolves around Antetokounmpo, that seemed to be the case in this series. Having already gone down 3-0 with a healthy Antetokounmpo in the first two games, the Bucks showed they really just do not have an answer for the Heat. In the aftermath of the playoffs, there was a lot of talk about Antetokounmpo looking for a way off the team, but luckily it seems that he has decided to stick around. With the incredible talent that the Bucks showed in the regular season, the playoffs were another letdown this year. Hopefully the team can address some weaknesses and come back strong next year.