The 2018-19 NBA regular season determined the Milwaukee Bucks and Toronto Raptors were the two best teams in the Eastern Conference.
The first two rounds of the playoffs reached the same conclusion.
Now, the top-seeded Bucks and second-seeded Raptors are set to begin their head-to-head battle with a spot in the NBA Finals on the line. Toronto has never reached the championship round. Milwaukee hasn't been there since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson and Bob Dandridge led the charge to the 1974 Finals.
This series has instant-classic potential, and it all gets started Wednesday night. After laying out the series schedule, we'll take a closer look at the matchup and predict how the opener might play out.
2019 NBA Playoff Schedule
Eastern Conference Finals
Game 1: Wednesday, May 15, Raptors at Bucks, 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 2: Friday, May 17, Raptors at Bucks, 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 3: Sunday, May 19, Bucks at Raptors, 7 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 4: Tuesday, May 21, Bucks at Raptors, 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
*Game 5: Thursday, May 23, Raptors at Bucks, 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
*Game 6: Saturday, May 25, Bucks at Raptors, 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
*Game 7: Monday, May 27, Raptors at Bucks, 8:30 p.m. ET on TNT
Milwaukee's MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo has looked the part this postseason.
The impossibly long, incredibly skilled superstar has torched opponents to the tune of 27.4 points, 11.4 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 1.6 blocks per game. And because the Bucks have barely broken a sweat in these playoffs—they're 8-1 with an average scoring differential of plus-15.3 points per game—the Greek Freak has only been needed for 31.4 minutes a night.
But he knows Toronto presents a different type of test.
"Against Boston, you can go down 1-0 and still be fine," Antetokounmpo told reporters. "But against Toronto, it's hard to be in that spot when you lose the first game in your home."
Celtics shade aside, he might be on to something.
The Raptors might have the East's only other player in Antetokounmpo's stratosphere.
Kawhi Leonard has been brilliant in his first (and maybe last) postseason run north of the border. He's been the team's top performer in points (31.8) and rebounds (8.5), and his last field-goal attempt delivered the biggest bucket in franchise history:
The Leonard-led Raptors have been right on the Bucks' heels all year.
During the regular season, Milwaukee won an NBA-best 60 games and posted a league-leading plus-8.6 net rating. Toronto tallied the second-most victories (58) and the third-highest net rating (plus-5.8). The Bucks' playoff net rating is an absurd plus-15.2, but the Raptors are right behind at plus-8.1.
Last summer, Toronto determined it had likely reached its ceiling with DeMar DeRozan as its franchise focal point, so it shipped the fan favorite out for Leonard. The Raptors not only look more ferocious now, but so does Leonard.
"He's grown and evolved and just obviously one of the elite players in our league," Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, who assisted Leonard in San Antonio, told reporters. "... He's a great shooter—the mid-range shot, the three-point shot. He can finish in the paint, get to the free-throw line. Just a very dynamic, gifted scorer."
The head-to-head showdown between Antetokounmpo and Leonard looks like a coin flip. Widening the lens to both teams, though, gives a slight edge to the higher seed.
Milwaukee has more depth and better consistency from its supporting cast. Toronto is asking a ton from Pascal Siakam, as Kyle Lowry (28.1 percent from three) and Danny Green (37.8 percent overall) have struggled with their rhythm. The Bucks have received so many positive contributions, it's easy to overlook that Khris Middleton (42.2 percent shooting) and Brook Lopez (27.9 from three) haven't quite been themselves.
Tack on the fact Game 1 is at Fiserv Forum—where Milwaukee has gone 37-9 between the regular season and playoffs—and all signs point to the home team drawing first blood.
Prediction: Bucks 111, Raptors 105