The second-seeded Raptors advanced the NBA Finals after winning four games in a row to defeat the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Kawhi Leonard scored 27 points and hauled down 17 rebounds in Game 6 and the Raptors won 100-94. Leonard outplayed Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo, who scored 21 points in a losing effort.
The Bucks won the first two games of the series in Milwaukee. Almost everyone was ready to write the Raptors off and hand the NBA Finals berth to the Greek Freak. Kawhi Leonard wouldn’t let the Raptors give up. The Raptors won the next two games in Toronto, including a thrilling overtime affair in Game 3. Then the Raptors went into Milwaukee and pulled of a victory in Game 5.
With the Bucks on the ropes, they had to go north of the border to extend the series. They were unable to pull off the daunting task and failed to stave off elimination.
The Raptors bench stepped up once again. They outscored the Bucks bench 38-23. Fred VanVleet’s hot hand continued. He went 4-for-5 from beyond the arc for 14 points.
Another Early Surge by the Bucks
Just like in Game 5, the Bucks jumped out to an early lead, but could not hold it against the pesky Raptors.
The Bucks hit six three-pointers and opened up a 13-point lead at the end of the first quarter. Khris Middleton, who struggled to find his shot during the Bucks’ losing streak, got on the board early with two quick treys.
Ersan Ilyasova scored 9 points off the bench for the Bucks, while Nikola Mirotic fell completely out of the rotation and didn’t play a single minute.
Raptors played better defense in the second quarter. The second unit helped them chipped away at the lead. Pascal Siakam led all scorers with 11 points in the first half.
Bucks led 50-43 at halftime, but even an upbeat Drake had a nervous look on his face.
Kawhi Crunch Time
The Bucks came out fired up in the third quarter and extended the lead to 14 points. The Raptors made their run late in the third quarter, but Leonard looked visibly fatigued as they cut the lead to five points. Nick Nurse opted to keep him in the game to help eradicate the lead than give him a breather. Would his gamble pay off?
With Leonard on the bench at the start of the fourth quarter, the Raptors stormed back with a 7-2 run to tie the score. They went on a 16-3 run to start the quarter before the Bucks finally woke up and stopped the bleeding.
The Freak faded in the fourth quarter once again. He didn’t score in the last five minutes of the game. Brook Lopez kept the Bucks in the game, but they were outscored 29-18 in the final frame.
“We kept fighting all game,” said Leonard. “We kept striving and striving. My teammates did a great job at picking up the lead.”
The Freak finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds. He continued to struggle from the free throw line and went 5-for-10 on the night.
An exhausted Leonard sealed the victory with two free throws with 3.9 seconds remaining. He finished the game with 27 points, 17 points, and 7 assists. Siakam scored 18 total points and Kyle Lowry added 17 points despite a sprained thumb.
On Deck: Raptors vs. Warriors
The Warriors will be appearing in their fifth-straight NBA Finals. Without Kevin Durant, the Warriors swept the Portland Trailblazers. Durant has not played since injuring his calf in Game 5 of the Western Conference Semifinals. His status is unknown for Game 1 of the finals.
“They’re one of the greatest teams in history,” said Raptors coach Nick Nurse. “It will be a tall task, but we’ll try to figure it out.”
The Raptors punched their ticket to their first appearance in the NBA Finals. Leonard is coming in hot and averaging 31.4 points per game.
“He is the best player in the league,” said Raptors President Masai Ujiri. “And we’re happy he’s in Toronto.”
According to the South Point Casino and Sports Book in Las Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are -275 odds to three-peat as world champions. The Toronto Raptors are 3/1 odds to win the NBA title.
The NBA Finals commence on Thursday, May 20 at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Canada. The Warriors opened as a consensus 1-point favorite in Game 1.