Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) keeps hold of the ball after being fouled during second half NBA Eastern Conference finals action against the Milwaukee Bucks, in Toronto on Saturday, May 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard (2) keeps hold of the ball after being fouled during second half NBA Eastern Conference finals action against the Milwaukee Bucks, in Toronto on Saturday, May 25, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Raptors beat Bucks 100-94 to advance to franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals

Leonard has 27 points, 17 boards to lead Toronto past Milwaukee

TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors will play in the NBA Finals, a Canadian basketball success story 24 years in the making.

Kawhi Leonard poured in 27 points and hauled down a game-high 17 rebounds to lead the Raptors to a thrilling 100-94 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks that clinched the Eastern Conference finals series 4-2.

Kyle Lowry, playing through the constant pain of a sprained thumb, had 17 points and eight assists, and grabbed the game ball after the final buzzer sounded on what was Toronto’s biggest comeback of this post-season.

Pascal Siakam had 18 points, while Fred VanVleet finished with 14.

The road doesn’t get any easier for Toronto. The defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors await after dispatching the Portland Trail Blazers in four games in the west final almost a week ago. The Finals tip off in Toronto on Thursday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, favoured to win the league MVP after leading the Bucks to a league-best 60-win season — two better than Toronto — had 21 points and 11 boards, while Brook Lopez had 18.

The Raptors got off to a shaky start reminiscent of Game 5, giving up a 17-2 Bucks run that straddled the first and second quarters to trail by 15 points early in the first half.

Toronto closed the third quarter with a 10-0 run capped by three Leonard free throws that sliced the Bucks’ advantage to 76-71 with one quarter left to play.

The Raptors continued to ride a massive wave of momentum — a 26-3 run punctuated by a massive Leonard dunk from a hand-off from Lowry with 6:46 to play prompting a roar from the crowd that rocked Scotiabank Arena. The fans didn’t sit down again until the game’s final buzzer blew.

The Bucks pulled to within a point with just over five minutes to play, but three-pointers by Marc Gasol and Leonard — Leonard’s bouncing up off the rim before falling, in similar fashion to his conference semifinal Game 7 buzzer-beater against Philadelphia — had Toronto up by five with 3:04 to play.

Leonard, who missed all but nine games last season with San Antonio because of a serious quadriceps injury, was breathing heavily, hands on knees, after missing a dunk that Siakam tipped in with 2:06 to play.

A pair of free throws from Lopez made it a three-point game with 29.6 seconds to play, then Siakam was fouled with seven seconds left. The Cameroon big man sank one. Then Leonard was fouled with 3.9 seconds left, and with the crowd chanting “M-V-P!” Toronto’s superstar sank both. Game over. Lowry could barely contain his emotions as the final seconds ticked down.

The Raptors were making their second Eastern Conference finals appearance in franchise history, and first since they stole two games off LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers before being ousted in six games in 2016.

Raptors president Masai Ujiri rebuilt this team with the lofty goal of an NBA championship, trading much-loved DeMar DeRozan for Leonard in the off-season and then swapping Jonas Valanciunas for Gasol at February’s trade deadline.

If fans complained then, they aren’t now.

Scotiabank Arena on Saturday night was a raucous sea of red. The capacity crowd, No. 233 in a row, included Blue Jays Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, former Raptor Bismack Biyombo, former TFC striker Sebastian Giovinco, Canadian actor Mena Massoud, singer Dallas Green, comedian Gerry Dee, and former CFL star Pinball Clemons, among others.

Drake, who’s been a lightning rod in the series since his impromptu shoulder squeeze of coach Nick Nurse in Game 4, wore a black hoodie that read on the back: “Kawhi Me a River.”

A thunderstorm that rolled through the city had threatened the celebrations in Jurassic Park outside the arena, but the area was opened about an hour before tipoff, and quickly filled by the thousands of fans who had stood in the massive line that snaked around the arena, past Union Station and up Yonge Street.

In his pre-game availability, Nurse was asked: how much does a close-out game come down to pure heart and desire?

“Eighty-six per cent of it,” the coach said. “We end up showing all these clips and all these coverages and all these matchups and all these things and blah, blah, blah. At the end of it every time, I say, ‘This is about 15 per cent of the game.’

“The rest of it is are we going to sprint back and are we going to communicate great and are we going to get physical, are we going to get into bodies, are we going to block out with some toughness. I can keep going on and on, but that’s where the 85 per cent comes from.”

READ MORE: Drake passions heat up with Raptors’ run as crucial game approaches

Toronto was all heart down the stretch on Saturday.

The Raptors dropped the first two games in Milwaukee, but rebounded to win three in a row, including a thrilling 105-99 victory on Thursday at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum that saw Toronto climb out of an 18-4 hole.

Only five teams in NBA history have come back from a 0-2 series deficit to win a conference final. The last time was in 2012, when an Oklahoma City squad that included Serge Ibaka battled back to beat San Antonio.

It was another horrible start for the Raptors, who went four minutes 41 seconds without a basket in the first quarter to trail by eight points. They tied it up with 3:50 to play, but the Bucks closed the quarter with a 15-2 run to lead 31-18 heading into the second.

The Bucks stretched their lead to 15 twice in the second quarter, but a VanVleet three capped a 21-8 Raptors run that pulled them to wihin two points. Milwaukee took a 50-44 lead into the dressing room at halftime.

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter 

NBA

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Gus doing a little hard time before reuniting with his owners. Photo: Trail RCMP
Trail RCMP report cheery conclusions to missing cases

Media brief from the Trail and Greater District RCMP

Tim Schewe is a retired constable with many years of traffic law enforcement. To comment or learn more, please visit DriveSmartBC.ca.
Drivesmart BC: Rules around bicycle lanes

The lane is often painted green to distinguish it from lanes intended for motor vehicles.

“It’s never too early to start your own Advance Care Plan, but sometimes it can be too late,” says the BC Hospice Palliative Care Association. Photo: Joanna Nix-Walkup on Unsplash
Start the conversation on April 16, National Advance Care Planning Day

Hospice advises to communicate your wishes for peace of mind

FILE — In this March 31, 2021 file photo, a nurse fills a syringe with a dose of the Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose COVID-19 vaccine at the Vaxmobile, at the Uniondale Hempstead Senior Center, in Uniondale, N.Y. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. In a joint statement Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration said it was investigating clots in six women in the days after vaccination, in combination with reduced platelet counts. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)
72 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

This brings the total number of cases in the region to 9,666 since the pandemic began

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)
WATCH: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

Health Canada headquarters in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Health Canada releases guidelines for reducing COVID-19 transmission at home

Improve indoor air quality by opening up your windows and doors, among the encouraged ventilation measures

Flow Academy is not accepting membership applications from anybody who has received a dose of the vaccine, according to a password-protected membership application form. (Submitted image)
B.C. martial arts gym refusing patrons who have been vaccinated, wear masks

Interior Health has already issued a ticket to Flow Academy for non-compliance with public health orders

MP Todd Doherty took to Facebook after his family recently received threats. (Todd Doherty, MP Facebook photo)
‘I don’t run and I don’t hide’: Cariboo MP says RCMP probing threats made against family

Todd Doherty has also notified House of Commons Protective Services

Two men walk past a sign on Main Street in downtown Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calls for government transparency in COVID data continue as B.C.’s 3rd wave wears on

Social media, where both information and misinformation can spread like wildfire, has not helped

The music video for “Green and Blue” featured a Willington Care Centre in Burnaby as well as some of the volunteers and employees. (Screenshot/Todd Richard)
‘Green and Blue’: B.C. country musician releases tribute song for front-line workers

Richard’s new single has been viewed more than 3,000 times on his YouTube channel

An unidentified B.C. man said, in a human rights complaint, that he was refused a contract job after refusing to wear a mask when asked to by an on-site manager. (Unsplash)
Religious B.C. man lodges human rights complaint after fired for refusing to wear a mask

Worker’s claim that ‘to cover up our face infringes on our God-given ability to breathe’ dismissed by B.C. Human Rights Tribunal

This 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 was stolen from Black Creek Motors at approximately 2 a.m. Sunday, April 11. Photos via blackcreekmotors.com
VIDEO: B.C. car dealer posts clip of thieves towing a truck right off his lot

Video shows one white truck towing another off Vancouver Island lot

Most Read