The Toronto Raptors will play in the NBA Finals, a Canadian basketball success story 24 years in the making.
Success becomes these Raptors after years of playoff heartache
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.
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.
Calendar check 🗓<br><br>Game 1: May 30, at Toronto | 9 ET <br>Game 2: June 2, at Toronto | 8 ET <br>Game 3: June 5, at Golden State | 9 ET<br>Game 4: June 7, at Golden State | 9 ET<br>*Game 5: June 10, at Toronto | 9 ET<br>*Game 6: June 13, at Golden State | 9 ET<br>*Game 7: June 16, at Toronto | 8 ET
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.
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.
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