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Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) is averaging 26 points per game in the playoff series against the Raptors. (PHOTO: Milwaukee Bucks)

Game 3, Bucks vs. Raptors: Everything you need to know

After splitting Games 1 and 2 of their first-round NBA Playoffs series in Toronto, the sixth-seeded Bucks return to Milwaukee on Thursday night to host the third-seeded Raptors.

The Bucks opened the series with an impressive victory last Saturday at Air Canada Centre, then lost a nail-biter there on Tuesday, which leveled the series at 1-1 heading home. Tonight's Game 3 will tip-off at 7 p.m. at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, and it will be the first postseason contest in Milwaukee in two years.

The team played well in Toronto, and Game 2 was FOX Sports Wisconsin's highest-rated Bucks broadcast ever, so there is plenty of excitement around Brew City for the return of playoff basketball.

Here's everything you need to know about Game 3, whether you're going, watching on TV or just want something to talk about.

The pregame

Prior to the start of Game 3, the Milwaukee Bucks Playoff Pep Rally, presented by Palermo's Pizza, will kick things off in the southeast plaza of the BMO Harris Bradley Center beginning at 4 p.m. The festival-like atmosphere will have interactive games and prizes throughout, making it a can't-miss event to get fired up for Milwaukee's first home playoff game of the series. And if you can't make it out but want to watch and cheer with people somewhere, here's our handy sports bar guide.

Bucks broadcasters and team legends like Jim Paschke, Ted Davis, Marques Johnson, Gus Johnson and Vin Baker will all be on hand to help fire up fans, while team owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry will also address the crowd at approximately 6:15 p.m.

The arena

The third matchup of the Bucks-Raptors postseason series is sponsored by Johnson Controls and will feature a Fear the Deer theme, as the team will wear its black alternate jerseys and play on the team's unique alternate court. All fans in attendance will receive a black Fear the Deer T-shirt, compliments of Johnson Controls. Tickets for tonight's game are sold out, but fans are encouraged to check Ticketmaster's official NBA resale site at bucks.com/tickets to purchase verified resale tickets.

The broadcast

Tonight's Game 3 will be televised nationally on NBA TV at 7 p.m. Locally, it will once again be broadcast by FOX Sports Wisconsin, following a special one-hour edition of the Bucks Live pregame show beginning at 6 p.m. The game can also be heard on 620 WTMJ and across the Bucks statewide radio network.

The airline special

The playoff spirit will spread to Mitchell International Airport over the next few days, as Delta Airlines will be offering priority boarding to all passengers wearing Bucks gear during the current playoff homestand. From now through Saturday, Delta gate agents will allow anyone wearing Bucks gear to board along with premium cabin and diamond medallion passengers. Additionally, the gate agents will have a selection of Bucks playoff gear to randomly hand out to passengers flying Delta out of Milwaukee over the next three days.

The star

In the second postseason of his career, point-forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has continued his star ascension. The Greek Freak, who this year was the Bucks' first All-Star since 2004 and became the fifth player in NBA history to lead his team in points, assists, rebounds, blocks and steals in one season, has managed to elevate his play further in the first two games of the playoffs.

Antetokounmpo is averaging 26.0 points and 11.5 rebounds, along with 5.0 assists and 2.0 steals, in 40.5 minutes per game in the series. He's gotten help from guard Khris Middleton, who is scoring 15.0 points per game despite a shooting slump, and center Greg Monroe, who's putting up 16.0 points and 9.5 rebounds off the bench. Often in the first two contests, Antetokounmpo looked like the best player on the court for either team; in Game 2, he shook off first-half struggles, becoming more aggressive late in the fourth quarter, attacking the basket, hitting a rare 3-pointer and nearly leading the Bucks to a dramatic comeback win.

The rookies

It's fairly unusual for an NBA team to start a rookie in the high-stakes playoffs. Well, Milwaukee is starting not one, but two first-year players against the Raptors. Center Thon Maker, the 20-year-old first-round draft pick, and guard Malcolm Brogdon, a 24-year-old second-rounder, have been in Milwaukee's lineup and made major contributions in the series.

Maker, a raw but physically gifted 7-footer, has scored just nine points and grabbed six rebounds combined over 35 total minutes in the first two games, but he's made his presence felt defensively, blocking five shots, altering many others and giving the Bucks a crucial rim protector. Brogdon, a poised and productive Rookie of the Year candidate, was steady and consistent all season, and now has taken on an even bigger role in the playoffs. He broke out with 16 points (4 of 7 on 3-pointers) and six rebounds in the Game 1 win, but struggled with just seven points (3-of-11 shooting) in the Game 2 loss. Brogdon has emerged as one of the Bucks' most valuable players, and his performance is vital to the team's success.

The opponent

The Raptors won 51 games this year largely on the backs of All-Star guards Kyle Lowry (22.4 points, 7.0 assists per game) and DeMar DeRozan (27.3 points, 5.2 rebounds per game). It's one of the best backcourts in the league. At the midseason trade deadline, Toronto acquired forwards Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, adding defense, strength and attitude to its rotation.

Lowry struggled in Game 1 (four points on 2-of-11 shooting), but was instrumental in the Raptors' Game 2 win, scoring 22 points and hitting a clutch, clinching jumper. DeRozan has averaged 25 points over the two games, but was more efficient and shot much better in Game 2 (9 of 18 from the field) than in Game 1 (7 of 21). Ibaka was an offensive force in the series opener, with 19 points and 14 rebounds, and made a huge defensive impact in the second game. Toronto hasn't gotten many contributions from other players.

The storyline

After winning Game 1 on the road, Milwaukee stole home-court advantage from the Raptors in the series. Though the Bucks are still an underdog in the series, they've vastly improved their position, and if they just win their home games, they will advance to the next round. Milwaukee won decisively in Game 1 and nearly prevailed in Game 2; the team has looked less like a frisky bunch just happy to be here than a good team that is a legitimate threat to upset Toronto.

The key to a win

Play fast. In Game 1, the Bucks dictated the tempo on defense and pushed the pace offensively. Their length and high-pressure trapping scheme got Lowry and DeRozan out of rhythm, they forced Toronto turnovers and missed shots and got out in transition. Antetokounmpo, Brogdon and others attacked, driving to the basket and creating space for shooters like Middleton, Tony Snell, Matthew Dellavedova, and letting Monroe operate down low.

In Game 2, the Raptors made adjustments, Lowry and DeRozan made their shots, the Bucks weren't as aggressive defensively and they couldn't run as much. It became more of a half-court game, and, although Milwaukee still executed pretty well – 20 assists to 11 turnovers, only 16 fouls, 47.8 percent shooting from 3-point range – Toronto just played like the better team. To win this series, the Bucks still have to be funky and different; they present matchup problems for the Raptors, and need to take advantage of that unconventionality. If they play fast and Antetokounmpo dominates in front of a raucous home crowd tonight,, the Bucks will be victorious.


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