For the first time in franchise history, the Toronto Raptors will play in the NBA Finals. The Raptors defended their home court in front of a delirious crowd at Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night, and after 48 grueling minutes against the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto picked up a victory in the Eastern Conference Finals with a 100-94 win in Game 6.
Milwaukee came to play on both ends of the floor in the first quarter. Their defense was swarming, holding Toronto to 18 points on 31.6 percent shooting from the field with one made triple.
On the other end, the crisp, efficient Bucks offense that had gone missing over the last few games showed up. Milwaukee scored 31 points on 57.1 percent shooting, hitting six of their nine threes. It also helped that the Bucks were propelled by a pair of monster runs. One saw them score 11 unanswered points early on in the period. The other featured them closing out the frame by scoring 10 points in a row.
Milwaukee continued to keep Toronto at arm’s length during the second quarter — the Bucks played with the urgency you expect out of a team that found itself in a win or go home situation. This was especially the case defensively, as Mike Budenholzer’s bunch flew around with aplomb and did everything they could to make it difficult for the Raptors to score.
Toronto did manage to chip away, first with an 11-3 run to cut the lead to single digits, then by simply hanging around for the rest of the frame. They got it down to five points thanks to a dunk by Serge Ibaka that ignited the home crowd…
…then, a triple by new dad Fred VanVleet got it down to three. That didn’t quite stand, though, thanks to an Eric Bledsoe triple and Giannis Antetokounmpo hitting one of two free throws.
By the time halftime rolled around, the Bucks boasted a 50-43 lead, powered by 10 points and seven rebounds from Antetokounmpo. In a surprise twist, Ersan Ilyasova came up huge off the bench, giving Milwaukee nine points and six rebounds. For Toronto, Pascal Siakam’s 11 points led the way, while Kyle Lowry and VanVleet both had nine and Kawhi Leonard had eight.
Milwaukee looked prime to get out ahead and bury Toronto in the third. The Bucks withstood a Raptors run early on in the quarter before extending their lead to as many as 15, thanks in part to a Khris Middleton prayer getting answered and a block that Antetokounmpo and maybe five other people on earth can pull off.
The issue for Milwaukee is that one team in this series has Kawhi Leonard, and it ain’t them. Leonard willed Toronto back into the game with 12 third quarter points, eight of them coming in the final two minutes or so. He kept finding ways to get to the free throw line, most notably by hauling in his own miss from the charity stripe to get right back there.
The 76-71 lead the Bucks brought into the fourth quarter was quickly erased. Ibaka, once again, rose up for a powerful jam, finishing through contact to draw the Raptors level 90 seconds into the frame.
It was all part of a monster run by Toronto that made a trip to the NBA Finals seem inevitable. Between the third and fourth quarters, the Raptors ripped off an insane 26-3 run that included haymaker after haymaker. VanVleet briefly morphed into Kyrie Irving on a sidestep three that nearly caused the building to implode.
Soon after, Leonard did this. I, from several hundred miles away, laughed very hard.
However, the Bucks did not fold. Milwaukee eventually composed themselves and scored seven unanswered points to cut the Raptor lead to one.
The game was so good that the Western Conference’s representative in the NBA Finals couldn’t help but be entertained by the two sides going all out.
We even got a flashback to a bucket Leonard hit earlier in the postseason on a corner jumper that went in after bouncing favorably. Please do not let anyone you know who is a fan of the Philadelphia 76ers watch the following clip.
The moment that might have best shown that it was Toronto’s night came when Leonard had a dunk swatted by Antetokounmpo, only for the ball to fall perfectly into the hands of Siakam for a layup.
Tried as they might, Milwaukee just could not get over the hump, and by the time the final horn sounded, the Raptors earned the right to play for the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Leonard was out of his mind, putting up 27 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks, and two steals in his latest unforgettable performance. Siakam had 18 points, Lowry went for 17 points and eight dimes, and VanVleet pitched in 14 points off the bench. Antetokoumpo stuffed the stat sheet with 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and two blocks, while Brook Lopez had a near double-double with 18 points and nine rebounds.
It was an excellent season for the Bucks, but it ultimately wasn’t quite enough. As for the Raptors, their magical season will continue next Thursday, when they play host to the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.