Source: Frank Gunn/Canadian Press via AP
The Toronto Raptors are going to the NBA Finals, I repeat the Toronto Raptors are going to the NBA finals after defeating the number one seed the Milwaukee Bucks in six games. The Raptors are going to their first NBA Finals, and will the first Canadian to play for the Larry O'Brien trophy.
The Raptors shocked a lot of people including myself. The Bucks had their way in the regular season against Toronto but this is why the playoffs are a different animal. Down the stretch in the final minutes of game 1, Toronto went ice cold missing the final 8 shots of the game, as the Bucks stole the game out of Toronto's hands. Raptors players Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry combined for 61 of Toronto's 100 points. Lowry especially looked comfortable shooting the ball hitting 10 of 15 shots, and almost shot close to 80 percent on threes.
The Bucks in the 4th quarter were starting to hit their shots and Brooks Lopez of all people was draining threes like no tomorrow. His team-high 29 points buried Toronto. Three Bucks players had double-doubles, including their star Giannis Antetokounmpo, and were now up 1-0 against the Raps.
Game 2 was the low point for the Dinos, the Bucks shook the rust off from game 1 and dominated game 2. Not once did Toronto lead in game 2 and were down 9-0 early. The Raptors gave up 35 points in the first quarter and were down by 25 at halftime. Toronto defensively couldn't stop Giannis as he had 30 points and a whopping 17 boards. The Bucks were also forcing turnovers and lots of them. Ersan Ilyasova came off the bench and was hitting almost all of his shots. The Bucks had six players scoring in double figures and while Toronto was trying to chip into the Bucks lead, Milwaukee would keep on answering Toronto with buckets of their own. After game 2 Toronto looked toast. It felt at this point that Toronto was dead in the water. They blew it in game 1 and now lost by 22 in game 2.
Coming into Game 3 the Raptors were up against the ropes.They had to come out strong and they did. The Raptors were up 30-21 after the first quarter, and finally had some help from their bench something that was lacking during this playoff run.
The Raptors had a chance to put the game away as Pascal Siakam was on the line but missed both free throws with 7.4 seconds left in this game. Khris Middleton tied the game up as he missed the first shot but grab his own rebound and put it in the basket to send the game to overtime. Milwaukee got their first lead until Kawhi went full beast mode, scoring 8 of the team's 15 points in the second overtime. Toronto not only shut down Giannis but he also got fouled out in the second overtime giving the dinos the upper hand. Toronto escaped the game with a big win. Kawhi and Siakam, Toronto's two best scorers came up big when needed.
A lot of basketball pundits had this series ending in 5 games, so heading into game 4 the Raps still had lots to prove. At points in the game Ibaka looked like his old self from his playing days in OKC. Grabbing his own boards and terrorizing the rim with dunks. He looked like the monster we expected him to be when he first came to Toronto. The Raptors bench had their best showing of the these playoffs with Kawhi looking like he was dealing with a little fatigued from game 3. Kyle Lowry had a solid outing with 25 points and also led the Raptors in free throw attempts and points with a perfect 10 for 10. The Raptors started to collapse on Giannis who had a good first quarter coming 11 points but only scored 14 the rest of the game. Toronto didn't give him a lane to go and basically kept him on the perimeter. The rest of the bucks didn't have much of a song other than Middleton who scored a team high 30 points. Game 4 was Toronto giving the Bucks with a taste of their own medicine.
With game 5 on the horizon and the series knotted up at 2 Toronto the dinos still hadn't won in Milwaukee all season, so how would they do it now? The Bucks were up by 10 after the first quarter, but Toronto stifled the Bucks offence in the second quarter as they only scored 17. Toronto was now only down by 3 at halftime. Both teams scored 26 points a piece heading into the 4th but Toronto was still down. The 4th quarter started to become the Kawhi Leonard show, taking over the game and finishing with 35 points. The Raptors who were trailing for over 35 minutes in game 5 against Milwaukee, came to play when it mattered. Giannis was nowhere to be found in the second half just like in game 4. Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer tried making moves sitting Nikola Mirotic and putting in Malcolm Brogdon in the starting lineup, but that wasn't enough to stop Toronto taking a 3-2 series lead with now a chance to finish the series on homecourt.
The Raptors record when trying to clinch a series at home was 4-1 and they already clinched both of their previous two series at home. The Raptors could make history if they win game 6. Giannis said the Bucks would win game 6 and be pissed off going back to Milwaukee for game 7. The Bucks once again dominated Toronto in the first quarter being finishing with a 10-0 run. At the 7:46 mark of the second quarter the Bucks were up by 15 thanks to an Ersan Ilyasova three point basket.
The Raptors Nick Nurse called a timeout. For almost three minutes the Bucks didn't record a basket as Toronto cut the their deficit to 7 points. In the third quarter the Bucks were having their way with Toronto, but the final 2 minutes of the third quarter became a big turning point. Toronto scored 10 straight points to finish the the quarter. The Raptors took charge in the 4th, Milwaukee was only able to mustar 5 points in 5 minutes with one of them being from a free throw shot. Toronto was now up by 8 points with less than 6 minutes to go, but that’s as close as Milwaukee would get.
Kawhi Leonard looked like an MVP and showed that as of right now he's the best basketball player in the world. Toronto's bench showed up and played a big factor. Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam both had a good series and helped being the secondary scorers. Marc Gasol got better throughout the series and his defense was spot on. The Raptors shockingly stun the Bucks winning 4 straight after being down 2-0. The Raptors experience, toughness and stubborn defence, a formula that the Bucks had no answer. Toronto before this season wasn't known for being tough and physical, Masai Ujiri changed the team's identity and it worked.
As the city celebrates, myself included, the Raptors are Eastern Conference Champions. Now they have a chance to make more history when they play the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. 24 years in the making and now Toronto's one step closer for a chance of glory.