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 

Just Posted

VIDEO: Caffeine and Gasoline rolls into Langley Saturday morning

Facebook group for car enthusiasts have impromptu gatherings around the Lower Mainland

Grillers compete for best meat in Langley

Rotary Clubs bring back RibFest for a second year from Aug. 16 to 18 at McLeod Park

New defenceman signs with Vancouver Giants

Brendan Pentecost played with the Delta Hockey Academy Elite 15s

VIDEO: Protesters target Langley Ribfest, a Rotary fundraiser

Groups that oppose the event for various reasons plan to be on site each of the three days.

Langley Township wins international accreditation for fire department

It is the first internationally accredited agency in the Township

Fashion Fridays: How to dress and feel powerful

Kim XO, helps to keep you looking good on Fashion Fridays on the Black Press Media Network

Helicopter-riding dog Mr. Bentley now featured on cans of new B.C.-made beer

Partial proceeds from every pack go to Children’s Wish

PHOTOS: Weapons seized at Portland right-wing rally, counterprotests

Not all who gathered Saturday were with right-wing groups or antifa

Sea-to-Sky Gondola in B.C. likely out of commission until 2020

Sea to Sky Gondola carries between 1,500 and 3,000 people every day during the summer season

Maple Ridge’s first retail cannabis store opens Monday

Spiritleaf is just the second private pot shop in the Fraser Valley

It’s snow joke: Up to 30 cm of snow expected to fall in northeastern B.C.

Alaska Highway, Fort Nelson to be hit with August snowstorm, according to Environment Canada

Discussion on grief and loss between Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper goes viral

The exchange includes emotional question from Cooper, and outlook on grief as a child

Toronto activist calling on federal parties to nominate more black candidates

Fewer than 20 black Canadians have been nominated so far, including some Liberal MPs seeking re-election

Police identify 45-year-old victim in South Surrey stabbing

Delphin Paul Prestbakmo died at the scene, near 18 Avenue and 152 Street

Most Read