One of the more evenly matched series of the 2017 NBA playoffs ended too soon on Thursday night (Friday Manila time), as the Toronto Raptors staved off the Milwaukee Bucks 92-89 to take a 4-2 first-round win.
The Raptors didn’t just earn a second-round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers in a clutch Game 6 win over the Bucks on Thursday. Toronto also made a big impact on the NBA title picture because believe it or not, the Raps’ victory is also a win for the Golden State Warriors.
While Giannis Antetokounmpo was the most talented player in this Raptors-Bucks series, his Milwaukee team never was going to threaten the Cavaliers. LeBron James, who was offended by the Greek Freak’s insolence earlier this season, would have made it his personal mission to destroy the Bucks in no more than five games.
Now, the Raptors don’t stand a much better chance against Cleveland. Maybe they can push the series to six games, maybe, but that’s all they really can expect.
It’s how those games will play out that really matters. Against P.J. Tucker, Serge Ibaka, and an All-Star backcourt that’s tougher than you think, the Cavaliers will have to earn every victory in the next round.
The Raptors will grab, push, bite, claw, fight and play dirty. This is why they acquired Tucker and Ibaka at the deadline: to punch the Cavs in the face.
They know they don’t have any other choice. And all of that accumulated wear and tear will take its toll on Cleveland.
The NBA playoffs are a marathon, not a sprint. Winning a championship requires navigating through an extra quarter of a season of fatigue and injury and LeBron already put himself through the wringer this season with the heaviest workload he’s assumed in years.
Do you think he’s looking forward to mixing it up with Tucker for six games? Does Kyrie Irving want any part of Kyle Lowry trying to eviscerate him? Does Kevin Love think he can go toe-to-toe with Ibaka?
Really? Do the Cavs really want any of that when Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant loom on the horizon? Cleveland’s going to need every ounce of its collective strength to stand a chance against a Warriors team playing its very best ball in the postseason. Facing Toronto isn’t conducive to resting up for the Finals, to say the least.
So yes, the Cavs will win their series with the Raptors, and they’ll probably do so in decisive fashion. But by the time Cleveland is ready to face Golden State in June, the Cavs will be asking the basketball gods why they couldn’t have played the Bucks in the second round instead.