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Stakes are high as Bucks, Raptors meet in Game 6

Fri May 24 5:26pm ET
By IAN HARRISON
Associated Press

Players: LeBron James, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, Kawhi Leonard, Nikola Mirotic, Malcolm Brogdon, Giannis Antetokounmpo

TORONTO (AP) There's no escaping the reality of what's at stake when the Toronto Raptors host the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on Saturday night.

The surging Raptors have won three straight, putting them on the brink of the first NBA Finals berth in team history.

The Bucks, who finished as the NBA's top team in the regular season and once led this series 2-0, have no more room for error after their first three-game losing streak all season.

These two teams have spent months trying to stay even-keeled, treating everything as just another game. That's starting to get a lot tougher.

''It's an elimination game,'' Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said Friday. ''It's just a fact.''

Raptors coach Nick Nurse added to that, suggesting the outcome of the series could have franchise-altering implications.

''These are games that now have significance as far as one team's going one direction, and one going the other, possibly,'' Nurse said.

No doubt. Milwaukee starters Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez and Malcolm Brogdon are all headed for free agency, although the Bucks can match offers for Brogdon. Nikola Mirotic is also a free agent this summer.

The Raptors, meanwhile, have no bigger free agent than two-way star Kawhi Leonard, who can opt out of the final year of his deal. An NBA Finals berth, or better, in Leonard's debut season north of the border would certainly be a boon to Toronto team President Masai Ujiri when free agency opens on June 30.

MVP candidate Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need a win to prolong their hopes of reaching the finals for the first time since 1974. Then a Western Conference team, Milwaukee lost to Boston in seven games. One season later, star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar left for the Lakers, and the Bucks haven't played for a ring since.

Toronto won twice in its previous Eastern Conference finals appearance, taking Games 3 and 4 at home against Cleveland in 2016. After that, LeBron James and the Cavs showed their class in Games 5 and 6, outscoring the Raptors by a combined 64 points.

Cleveland swept the Raptors out of the second round in each of the past two seasons, but LeBron's departure from the East and Leonard's arrival in Canada have helped put Toronto in its best position ever.

With his team heading home in need of one more win to set up a finals showdown with Golden State, Nurse knows the Raptors still face a daunting task in Game 6.

''As hard-fought as all these have been, and believe me, they have been, I expect this one to be the hardest fought of them all,'' Nurse said.

Here's what to know before Game 6:

NO LIMITS

Nurse won't be worrying about how much playing time his stars log on Saturday night.

''It's a whatever-it-takes game,'' he said. ''It's an unlimited-minutes night.''

BREATHER BENEFITS?

Budenholzer, on the other hand, said he sees value in keeping Antetokounmpo's minutes below 40.

''You need to be able to produce and perform, including in the fourth quarter, so I don't feel any different about how much we use him,'' Budenholzer said.

Antetokounmpo played 39 minutes in Game 5. He played 45 minutes before fouling out in Toronto's double-overtime win in Game 3, but hasn't topped 39 in any other game this postseason. His regular-season high was 42, in an overtime loss to the Knicks on Dec. 1.

TURNOVER TURNAROUND

Toronto trailed 16-4 after making its fourth turnover of the game with 7:55 left in the first quarter of Game 5. The Raptors had just two more turnovers the rest of the game, one each in the second and third quarters.

MORE MIDDLETON?

Middleton shot 2 for 9 in Game 5, the second time this series he has taken fewer than 10 shots. MIddleton has had 11 or more attempts in Milwaukee's other 12 postseason games. Budenholzer said he didn't mind the low shot total in Game 5, pointing to Middleton's 10 assists.

''The ball is in his hands, he's making great decisions, he's doing things that are really positive and really impactful,'' Budenholzer said.

Middleton had one 10-assist game in the regular season, against Miami on March 22.

Player Notes
Kawhi Leonard Jun 14 6:10am ET

Toronto Raptors shooting guard/small forward Kawhi Leonard took home the Finals MVP in the 114-110 series-ending win over the Warriors on Thursday. Leonard recorded 22 points and added six rebounds with three assists and two steals with a block in 41 minutes of action. Leonard put up a legendary performance this postseason and hushed up any doubters after a bizarre season last year with the Spurs. The Raptors are hoping to retain their franchise cornerstone for next season, but either way, what we saw this offseason was truly remarkable from the Claw. In the words of Mark Jackson, "Mama, there goes that man!"

Kyle Lowry Jun 14 6:00am ET

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry came out on fire on Thursday recording eight points in the game's first three possessions for his club and finished the night with a huge line to secure the NBA Championship. Lowry finished the night with 26 points and added 10 assists with seven rebounds and three steals across 42 minutes of action. Lowry bounced back after a couple of rough games and hushed any doubters after averaging a solid 16.2 points, 7.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds over the entire series. Lowry is on the books for next season and the 33-year-old will look to continue filling up box scores.

Serge Ibaka Jun 14 5:50am ET

Toronto Raptors power forward/center Serge Ibaka pumped in 15 points to help secure his club's first NBA title on Thursday. Ibaka brought the energy once again off the bench and the veteran averaged 16.7 points on a sizzling 67% shooting over the series' final three games. Marc Gasol struggled offensively in this one going 0-for-5 from the floor for three points but added nine rebounds. Ibaka is locked in for next season with the Raptors and depending on what happens with Marc Gasol, Ibaka again should be mid to late-round player in most formats next season.

Fred VanVleet Jun 14 5:50am ET

Toronto Raptors guard Fred Vanvleet poured in 22 points and provided elite defense throughout the night on Stephen Curry to help secure the Raptors' first NBA Championship. VanVleet stepped things up massively since Game 4 versus the Bucks as he averaged 14.7 points over the last nine games and was a major difference maker in these finals. VanVleet could see an even larger role if the Raptors do not resign Danny Green for next season. Keep an eye on the Raptors this offseason as there are many question marks regarding their roster.

Pascal Siakam Jun 14 5:40am ET

Toronto Raptors forward Pascal Siakam came out firing in Game 6 when he connected on two triples in the game's first four minutes and finished the night with 26 points. Siakam finished the with a double-double as he added 10 rebounds with three assists and a steal with a block in 46 minutes of action. Siakam came into the game missing 12 threes in a row but showed much more confidence on his catch-and-shoot threes in this one. Siakam was a fantasy stud this season and depending what happens with Kawhi Leonard this offseason, we could Siakam as a top-30 player next season.

Stephen Curry Jun 14 5:30am ET

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry provided just 21 points on a rough 6-for-17 shooting in the Game 6 loss to the Raptors in his club's last game at the Oracle on Thursday. Curry came into the game averaging 32.4 points in the series' first five games, but the Raptors did all they could to force the sniper into tough shots. The Raptors went back to the box-and-one defense after the Warriors lost Klay Thompson (knee) for the night. With a lot of questions surrounding the Warriors this offseason, and some players looking to miss large chunks of next season, Curry has been catapulted to a top-3 player in next year's drafts.

Draymond Green Jun 14 5:20am ET

Golden State Warriors power forward/center Draymond Green did all he could on Thursday with his shorthanded club to try and get the win, but it was not enough in the 114-110 loss. Green provided a monster triple-double with 19 rebounds, 11 points and 13 assists with three steals and two blocks. Green struggled on the offensive end for most of this series but this valiant effort will not go unnoticed on this night. If the Warriors lose a superstar or two this offseason, we can easily see Green going back to his top-25 fantasy player status as he regularly filled up box scores with his injury-plagued club this postseason.

DeMarcus Cousins Jun 14 5:20am ET

Golden State Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins provided a solid lift off the bench in Game 6 on Thursday when he scored 12 points and added five rebounds across 19 minutes of action. The Warriors opted to go with Kevon Looney as the team's starter in the middle, but Cousins came out aggressively and provided some buckets in crucial moments. The Warriors even opted to a zone defense on some possessions in order to hide Cousins more on the defensive end. It will be an interesting offseason for Cousins who was coming off one serious injury and then injured his quad this postseason.

Andre Iguodala Jun 14 5:20am ET

Golden State Warriors shooting guard/small forward Andre Iguodala was given the opportunity and he took full advantage of it on Thursday in Game 6 versus the Raptors. Iguodala scored 22 points with two boards and added two assists with a block across 32 minutes of action. Iggy had provided just eight points in the previous two games and he stepped things up after Klay Thompson (knee) left the game for good in the third quarter. He is now 35 and is on the books for next season, but we can expect Iggy to once again have restrictions in hopes on conversing himself for the 2019-20 postseason.

Klay Thompson Jun 14 5:10am ET

Golden State Warriors shooting guard/small forward Klay Thompson was putting forth a heroic effort in Game 6 before injuring his knee. Thompson landed awkwardly on his left knee and started exiting to the locker room before returning to shoot his free throws to leave the door open for a possible return. It was later revealed that he would not return to action after scoring 30 points across 32 minutes. Thompson had a massive series and it was a major blow to his club losing him in the series' most crucial game. It was later revealed that he indeed tore his ACL and we wish him a speedy recovery in hopes of a return at some point next season.

Stephen Curry Jun 11 6:00am ET

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry scored 23 of his 31 points in the opening half to help secure the Game 5 win over the Raptors in Toronto on Monday. Curry connected on 10 of 23 shooting from the floor and added eight boards with seven assists and five makes from three. Curry and backcourt teammate Klay Thompson led the charge after Kevin Durant (Achilles) exited the game and will once again be the lead players in Game 6 with the series on the line. Expect another monster night from Curry on Thursday, making him a must play.

Draymond Green Jun 11 5:50am ET

Golden State Warriors power forward/center Draymond Green once again filled up the stat sheet and just missed out on a triple-double in 41 minutes of action on Monday. Green scored 10 points with 10 rebounds and handed out eight dimes with a steal and a block. The Raptors dared him to shoot from downtown and Green made them pay as he nailed two of four from range. Green lost his cool on a couple of occasions in this emotional game and he picked up his sixth technical foul of the postseason, with one more leading to automatic one-game suspension. Green has been solid this postseason and is always a welcome addition to any lineup in DFS.

Kevin Durant Jun 11 5:50am ET

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (Achilles) made a heroic return to action on Monday after missing nine postseason games, only to exit the game with an Achilles injury in the second quarter. In the emotional game, Durant came out on fire, scoring 11 points in the opening frame before the injury occurred. The Warriors sadly believe that he has torn his Achilles and the official results will be released on Tuesday after an MRI. If it is indeed a tear, we can expect the superstar to miss most of the 2019-20 campaign. Stay posted on Tuesday for updates and we wish the best for KD and his recovery.

Klay Thompson Jun 11 5:50am ET

Golden State Warriors shooting guard/small forward Klay Thompson nailed seven triples with one coming in crunch time to help secure the one-point win over the Raptors in Game 5. Thompson finished the night with 26 points and added six rebounds with four assists and a steal in 42 minutes of action. Thompson nailed a massive three with 57 seconds left on the clock to snap a 103-103 tie and it would later be the winning basket. Thompson has been an under-the-radar star this series and there are no signs of him slowing down for Game 6.

Kyle Lowry Jun 11 5:30am ET

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry provided a solid line and made some big plays on Monday, but it was not enough in the 106-105 loss to the Warriors in Game 5. Lowry scored 18 points while handing out six assists with four rebounds and blocked two shots with a single steal in 42 minutes. The Warriors again struggled with guarding the high pick and roll with Lowry being the ball handler and he made them pay as he was able to get two feet in the paint that led to floaters for Lowry or open looks for teammates. Lowry is confident and focused right now and we can expect another big night from the veteran in Game 6.

Kawhi Leonard Jun 11 5:30am ET

Toronto Raptors shooting guard/small forward Kawhi Leonard struggled early on but came up big in the fourth quarter, but it was not enough in the one-point loss to the Warriors. Leonard started the game just 5-for-18 from the floor, but then put up 10 points with a monster block during a two-minute span that got the Raptors the lead. He finished the night with 26 points on 9-for-24 shooting and surprisingly had five turnovers after having zero in Game 4. Leonard is a must play on Thursday as he will be ready to close out this series rather than coming back to Toronto for a Game 7.

Fred VanVleet Jun 11 5:20am ET

Toronto Raptors guard Fred Vanvleet got back into the double-digit scoring column on Tuesday when he connected on 3-for-7 shooting to score 11 points in the one-point Game 5 loss to the Warriors. VanVleet did not add much else as he grabbed two rebounds with an assist across 27 minutes of action. VanVleet's solid defense on Stephen Curry was again evident and he again was aggressive with hitting shots from downtown as all three of makes came from range. VanVleet has been as solid as they come off the bench for the Raptors this series and we can assume this will continue in Game 6.

Marc Gasol Jun 11 5:20am ET

Toronto Raptors center Marc Gasol was aggressive early on as the Warriors reverted back to a small-ball lineup to start the game with Kevin Durant back in the lineup. Gasol went to work in the interior as he scored the Raptors' first six points en route to 17 total points with eight rebounds and he did it on just 4-for-6 shooting from the floor while nailing seven of eight at the line. Serge Ibaka also provided excellent energy from the bench as he scored 15 points with six rebounds, yet this was the first time this postseason that Ibaka scored in double digits and the Raps did not win.

Kevin Durant Jun 10 7:00pm ET

Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (calf) is expected to be able to suit up for Monday's Game 5 versus the Toronto Raptors. He was able to get through parts of shootaround, but left early to get treatment. Durant has been sidelined about a month after suffering a calf injury during the playoffs. Durant is a game-time decision for Game 5, so more information probably won't be announced until closer to tip-off.

Kyle Lowry Jun 8 5:30am ET

Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry managed to make just three of his 12 shots en route to 10 points while chipping in seven assists across 37 minutes of action on Friday. Lowry added two boards with three steals and he missed all four attempts from three on this night. Danny Green along with Lowry combined for just four of 20 shooting from the floor in this one. Lowry is a tough play right now as his value is not measured on the score sheet. Lowry will need to step things up in Game 5 if the Raps want to close out this series north of the border.