Lowe: All the surprising ways Giannis and Kawhi define the East finals


Have you come down from the greatest second round in NBA history?
Good.
The Eastern Conference finals between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Toronto Raptors bring a clash between the two best players in the conference -- Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kawhi Leonard, two of the superstars who have defined these nutty playoffs.
Bad news: They may not guard each other as much as fans craving gladiatorial theater might hope.
Let's bounce around the matchups we might see on both ends.
Bring out your centers! Marc Gasol and Serge Ibaka
It has become chic to put behemoth centers -- Rudy Gobert, Joel Embiid, Jarrett Allen, Aron Baynes -- on Antetokounmpo. and have them lay in wait in the paint. It has not worked all that well, but most teams do not have anyone with the combination of size and speed to stay in front of the likely MVP. Lacking such a unicorn-ish player, sticking a giant human between Antetokounmpo and the rim -- daring Antetokounmpo to hoist jumpers while staying home on Milwaukee's armada of shooters -- can feel like the least bad choice.
Alas, Gasol's days of handling this chore are probably in the rearview mirror. He's not as quick as Embiid and Gobert on either the horizontal or vertical plane.
Ibaka has a better chance, and got a chunk of the Antetokounmpo assignment across four regular-season matchups. (All four took place before the Raptors acquired Gasol.) The Ibaka-Gasol double-center look helped steady Toronto against a bullying Philly team. It doesn't feel as essential here -- Milwaukee ranked 26th in offensive rebounding rate -- but the Raptors, suddenly so thin without (for now) OG Anunoby, might need to steal some minutes with Ibaka guarding Antetokounmpo and Gasol on Brook Lopez or Ersan Ilyasova.
Side note No. 1: The Bucks largely forfeit offensive rebounds so Lopez can spot up at the top of the arc, and work as the first line of transition defense. The transition battle is an important game within the game. Toronto topped the league in points per possession on transition plays, per Cleaning The Glass data. Milwaukee boasted the stingiest transition defense.
Side note No. 2: Anunoby would come in handy here, and not only because Nick Nurse lost all faith in Norman Powell (and some in Fred VanVleet) in the Philly series. Anunoby could absorb a little of the Antetokounmpo assignment, and provide Toronto more switchable, small-ball lineup options -- options they might need more urgently here.
The Bucks may be at their most dangerous with three guards and wings surrounding Antetokounmpo and Nikola Mirotic. It was telling that, in Malcolm Brogdon's first game back from injury, Mike Budenholzer busted out the lineup of Eric Bledsoe, Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Antetokounmpo and Mirotic for five minutes. (Milwaukee walloped Boston by 14 points in those five minutes.) That group had logged just one minute all season before that game.
The Bucks can plop George Hill, Pat Connaughton or even Sterling Brown -- who got some run guarding Leonard in the regular season -- into such lineups.