On Thursday night, the Toronto Raptors took a huge step towards making their first ever trip to the NBA Finals as they secured a 105-99 victory in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks. This was no easy feat as not only did the Raptors defeat Milwaukee in their home floor, but more importantly, this win marks their third straight victory against what once seemed like an unbeatable Bucks side.
With the series now heading back to Toronto for Game 6, the Raptors are in an excellent position to clinch the series and end Milwaukee’s highly impressive playoffs run. The Raptors definitely have momentum on their side, and after logging three straight wins against the Bucks, a fourth victory in their home court does seem more likely than not.
Surely, there are more than a few factors that came into play during the past three contests. However, a case may be argued that perhaps one of the most important aspects that may have given the Raptors the edge is their playoffs experience. Below we take a more in depth look at how this all-important factor may have presented Toronto with a tremendous advantage over a significantly less experienced Milwaukee team.
The Tale of the Tape
The Toronto Raptors have long been considered as one of the biggest threats coming out of the Eastern Conference. They have made the playoffs for six straight seasons now, and have made it past the first round in each of the past four years (including a six-game Eastern Conference Finals defeat back in the 2015-16 season). In fact, only one man has stood in their way — LeBron James. LeBron and his Cleveland Cavaliers have eliminated the Raptors for three straight years now, but with James now out of the East, Toronto now look primed to finally get their hands on the conference title.
Sure, this is now a new-look Raptors side with former cornerstone star DeMar DeRozan and former head honcho Dwaye Casey both making their respective departures last summer. However, their replacements have been anything but shabby, with three-time All-Star Kawhi Leonard (more on him later) and Nick Nurse — Casey’s right hand man for the past five years — filling in admirably well. In fact, some might even say that collectively, the Raptors were able to upgrade their side over the offseason.
Toronto’s wealth of playoffs experience definitely outshines that of Milwaukee. Since Giannis Antetokounmpo joined the league in 2013, the Bucks have made it to the postseason four times. However, aside from this year’s extended run, the other three playoffs appearances for Milwaukee have been short-lived, with all three resulting in early first-round exits. Moreover, during that span, the team has notched a grand total of only seven playoff wins (versus 12 losses). Notably, it was also actually the Raptors who eliminated them back in the 2016-17 season (4-2) so this gives Toronto another psychological advantage.
The Disadvantage of Youth
The Bucks unquestionably have one of the most promising lineups in the NBA today. However, at this point in the season, youth — which of course, goes hand in hand with inexperience — might actually turn out to be a disadvantage for any side.
The Bucks are not exactly a young team, but their main man, Antetokounmpo is just 24 years of age. Starting guard Malcolm Brogdon is 26, while All-Star wing Khris Middleton is 27. The oldest guy in Milwaukee’s starting 5 is Brook Lopez, who at 31, is nowhere near a playoff veteran.
On the other hand, the youngest member of Toronto’s starting 5 is Pascal Siakam who is 25. Kyle Lowry (33), Danny Green (31), and Marc Gasol (34) are all over 30 and have a ton of playoffs experience under their belt.
The Kawhi Factor
The other guy on Toronto’s staring 5 that is below 30 is none other than Kawhi Leonard. While he may not have as much playoff minutes as compared to Gasol and Lowry, Kawhi is a former NBA champion and a Finals MVP as well.
Aside from the fact that he is arguably the best player in the playoffs right now, Leonard is able to bring to the table what no other active player on either team can — championship experience. He has literally been there and done it, and he certainly understands what it takes to win a title.
On paper, the Bucks may be the better team. However, playoffs experience is definitely an intangible factor that cannot be overemphasized. Unfortunately for Milwaukee, this is something that is working against them, and in the end, might just be the reason why their season ultimately ends in heartbreak.