Milwaukee Bucks: How fatigue could decide the Eastern Conference Finals

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 06: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks sits on the bench during a game against the Washington Wizards at Fiserv Forum on February 06, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - FEBRUARY 06: Giannis Antetokounmpo #34 of the Milwaukee Bucks sits on the bench during a game against the Washington Wizards at Fiserv Forum on February 06, 2019 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

How big an advantage do the Milwaukee Bucks have when it comes to rest against the Toronto Raptors, and could it swing the series in their favor?

On Wednesday night, the Milwaukee Bucks will take on the Toronto Raptors in the Eastern Conference Finals. Milwaukee fans have been waiting for their team to make it to this point in the playoffs since 2001.

The Bucks, as a team, have also been waiting for this game, albeit not as long. Since wrapping up their lopsided conference semi-finals series against Boston last Wednesday, Bucks players and coaches patiently waited and watched as the Philadelphia 76ers and Toronto Raptors duked it out for an opportunity to play Milwaukee.

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After a grinding Game 7 and a buzzer-beating shot that touched the rim at least 67 times (not really but it felt like that many), the Raptors advanced and now travel to Milwaukee.

While the Raptors and Sixers played intense, elimination contests in Games 6 and 7, the Bucks were at home recuperating, practicing and preparing. By the end of this series, how the two teams spent the week prior to Game 1 could very well be the difference between which team moves on to the NBA Finals.

The “rest vs. rust” debate is something that pops up every NBA postseason when one team has a short series and plays a team that played a longer series in the round prior.

There’s no real right answer in the debate as sometimes the team with the more rest loses and shows that the extra off-time did little against their opponent. Rest or not, the best team is usually the one that wins the series.

However, considering all the circumstances of these two teams, the fatigue factor is likely to play a major role in this series and puts the Bucks at a significant advantage.

In the case of the Bucks, their long layoff between their Game 5 against Boston and upcoming Game 5 tilt will be trading short-term harm for the long-term good. In Game 1, it wouldn’t be surprising for the Bucks to be a little slow out of the gate and find themselves playing catch-up to the Raptors.

Playoff games give players and teams a certain sharpness that can’t be replicated in practice. The Raptors are coming off playing the most intense basketball of the season, playing basketball where every possession seems like life or death.

The Bucks, meanwhile, are coming off a week of practices. Expect Milwaukee to be a little dull.

But after that first game, the advantage switches over to the team with rest. The longer the series goes, the more the advantage swings toward Milwaukee. Especially with the ECF having a schedule of just one off-day between every single game, by Games 5 or 6, Toronto will begin to feel the grind of the playoffs.

The Bucks, so far this postseason, have only played in nine games. The Raptors, meanwhile have already played in 12. Come a possible Game 7, it would be Toronto’s 19th game of the postseason, and 14th within a month. Playing 14 games in one month isn’t much compared to the regular season, but accounting for the intensity of the playoffs for each game, they really feel more like two games.

But it’s not just that the Bucks have played fewer games than the Raptors, but they’ve been so dominant that their players have played far fewer minutes.

Thanks to practically all of Milwaukee’s nine postseason games being blowouts, the Bucks’ key players have had a relatively easy postseason compared to their Toronto counterparts.

Let’s take Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard, as examples. Undoubtedly these are the two best players in the series and unquestioned leaders of their respective teams, both players are asked to shoulder significant burdens on both ends of the court.

Both teams are significantly better when these players are on the court and therefore have to play them longer in crucial games like the playoffs. The argument could be made that the winner of the series will come down to which player wins this matchup.

The Bucks have been so dominant, though, that Giannis is entering the series averaging just 31 minutes per game. Contrast that with Kawhi, who is averaging 37 minutes per game. Kawhi is playing half a quarter more per game than Giannis this postseason.

Combine that with the number of games played and Kawhi has played a total of 448 minutes already this postseason. Giannis, on the other hand, has played just 283 minutes and has had many more days off than Kawhi.

That’s 165 more minutes of playoff action Kawhi has played compared to Giannis, which translates to nearly three-and-a half full games of playoff basketball.

Now, if you’re a Toronto fan, you point to the fact the Raptors rested Kawhi during the regular season at any chance they could for this exact purpose so that he would be able to take on the added stress of the playoffs better. Kawhi played in only 60 regular season games and 2,040 minutes.

Giannis, in comparison, played 72 regular season games and logged 2,358 minutes. But do playing fewer minutes in November, December, January and February really translate to a better-rested player in May? I suppose we’ll find out.

It’s not just Kawhi, though, who has been seeing heavy minutes. Handcuffed by a weak bench that has struggled in the playoffs, Toronto head coach Nick Nurse has had to almost exclusively rely on his starting lineup.

All five Toronto starters are averaging over 30 minutes per game, while the Bucks only have two starters at that volume: Giannis (31.4) and Khris Middleton (32.8). Every Raptors starter has played in over 370 minutes of playoff action already, with Siakam (430), Lowry (448) and Kawhi (448) all playing over 400.

No Milwaukee player has appeared in over 300 minutes in this postseason yet.

Most of the advantage the Bucks have in player rest comes from their stellar bench. The Bucks’ bench averages 19 minutes per game, by far the best of any team left in the postseason. Toronto’s bench averages just 13 minutes per game, 13th out of the 16 playoff teams.

The Bucks’ bench not only plays a lot, but they play well too. Milwaukee’s bench this postseason is averaging 37.4 points per game, again the best of the remaining postseason teams, and has the best plus/minus of +4.1.

Toronto, meanwhile, is averaging just 21.6 points per game from their bench (15th out of 16 playoff teams) and has a plus/minus of -0.7.

So not only do the Bucks have a more well-rested starting lineup, but they have a deeper bench that they can depend on to win the minutes against Toronto’s bench or at the very least stay competitive with Toronto’s starters.

That is going to be crucial, especially if the series goes six or seven games. If Kawhi is having to play 40+ minutes a game, can he still be effective late in the series when the rest of the Bucks are much fresher come the fourth quarter?

This is before I’ve gotten to mentioning that Malcolm Brogdon is returning and is likely to play in the entire series. For Game 1, Brogdon will come off the bench and Nikola Mirotic will start, but I don’t expect that to last.

The Bucks made their mark as the best team in the NBA with Brogdon as a starter, and after he knocks off some of the rust from not playing for months, he’ll retake his starting spot.

With Brogdon back, the Bucks starting lineup becomes even better and knocks down Mirotic to the bench. Milwaukee gets one of their best players as fresh as any player could be at this point in the season while also bolstering their already strong bench unit.

Milwaukee already had a significant advantage when it came to having players better rested for the series, then they added a 50-40-90 player to the lineup.

Will rest be the most important factor in this series? No. The better team will win the series, that’s how these things work. The team that executes better and makes adjustments will be the one that moves on.

With that being said, the NBA is a make or miss league. A team misses shots when they’re playing on tired legs. If this series goes to a Game 6 or 7, tired legs could be the difference between Toronto’s shots missing and Milwaukee’s shots going in.

Next. Milwaukee Bucks: 3 keys to beating the Toronto Raptors in the Conference Finals. dark

It should be a competitive and fun series, but considering how even these teams seem to be, every little bit matters. By the end of the series, we could look back and see that the week off the Bucks had before the games even began was the difference.