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The Golden State Warriors are back in the NBA Finals like they never left.
That’s because for five years running now, they haven’t.
Despite stomaching injury blows to Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Iguodala, the Dubs dispatched the Portland Trail Blazers 119-117 on Monday to complete a four-game sweep in the Western Conference finals.
It was a history-making effort on multiple fronts. The team joined Bill Russell’s Boston Celtics as the only clubs to make five consecutive trips to the championship round:
ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo
The Warriors have become the 2nd team in NBA history to reach the Finals in 5 consecutive seasons.
They join the Celtics, who made 10 straight appearances from 1957-66. https://t.co/WveYs2ahCJ
In the latest win, Stephen Curry (37 points, 12 rebounds, 11 assists) and Draymond Green (18 points, 14 rebounds, 11 assists) became the first teammates ever to triple-double in the same playoff game:
Stephen Curry and Draymond Green are the first teammates in #NBAPlayoffs history to both record a triple-double in the same game! https://t.co/cFr4fXUhwa
Now, attention shifts over to the East to see who will become the first club without LeBron James to oppose Golden State in the Finals. The Milwaukee Bucks hold a 2-1 advantage over the Toronto Raptors, but the latter has home-court advantage in a Game 4 that could shrink this to a three-game series.
After laying out the updated Eastern Conference finals schedule, we’ll break down what’s ahead for the Bucks and Raptors.
2019 NBA Playoff Schedule
Eastern Conference Finals
Game 1: Wed, May 15, Bucks 108, Raptors 100
Game 2: Fri, May 17, Bucks 125, Raptors 103
Game 3: Sun, May 19, Raptors 118, Bucks 112 (2OT)
Game 4: Tue, May 21, Bucks at Raptors, 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 5: Thu, May 23, Raptors at Bucks, 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
*Game 6: Sat, May 25, Bucks at Raptors, 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
*Game 7: Mon, May 27, Raptors at Bucks, 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Two games into the penultimate postseason round, the Bucks seemed the likeliest pick to pull off an upset.
Game 1 was a grind-it-out affair, as Milwaukee started slow but revved up late, closing the contest with a victory-sealing 10-0 run. Game 2 was more of a muscle-flexer for this season’s top team, as the Bucks blitzed the Raptors early and often in a wire-to-wire rout.
But Toronto recovered in time to squeak out a nail-biter in Game 3.
Back on their home floor, the Raptors found a winning formula by combining huge outings from stars Kawhi Leonard (36 points, nine rebounds) and Pascal Siakam (25 points, 11 boards) with strong showings from support pieces such as Marc Gasol (12 boards, seven assists, five blocks) and Norman Powell (19 points on 7-of-13 shooting).
“We just played a lot tougher, man,” Raptors head coach Nick Nurse told reporters. “We were up guarding and we were physical and we were ready to play tonight.”
The bigger story of Game 3 might not have involved the Raptors, though. For as well as they played, they still needed two extra sessions to escape on a night when the Bucks were nowhere near their best.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, an MVP finalist, played his worst game of the postseason, finishing with more shots (16) than points (12) and more turnovers (eight) than assists (seven). Milwaukee starters not named Brook Lopez shot a combined 14-of-59 (23.7 percent).
Despite all that, Milwaukee played the first four periods to a draw and did the same in the fifth stanza. It drew first blood in the second overtime and had a possession with just a two-point deficit in the final frame.
“We were right on the cusp of winning a game when we didn’t play that well,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.
That’s the worry for the Raptors. If they needed the Bucks’ C-minus game to win, what happens if this 60-win squad finds its A or B form?
While Toronto might be the East’s only team to match Antetokounmpo’s star power with Leonard, the Raptors can’t match the Bucks’ depth, which is only growing stronger as key combo guard Malcolm Brogdon rediscovers his rhythm after a near-two-month absence (foot).
Maybe the Raptors find their way to another win Tuesday and transform this to a best-of-three. But even then, the Bucks would still have home-court advantage in a series they’re better-equipped to win.
Prediction: Bucks in six.