August 17, 2019

Toronto Raptors Eliminate Bucks for First Trip to the N.B.A. Finals

Toronto Raptors Eliminate Bucks for First Trip to the N.B.A. Finals

The Toronto Raptors eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks, 100-94, Saturday night in the sixth game of their Eastern Conference playoff series, bringing the N.B.A. finals to Canada for the first time.

The win — Toronto’s fourth straight in the best-of-seven conference finals — cemented a stunning comeback for a Raptors team used to postseason disappointment. Milwaukee’s loss was just as surprising for Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Bucks, who had the regular season’s best record (60-22) and opened this series with back-to-back victories.

But the Raptors, behind 36 points from Kawhi Leonard in Game 3 and 25 points from Kyle Lowry in Game 4, dug themselves out of that early hole to even the series at two games apiece. Game 5, in Milwaukee, could have been the Bucks’ revenge. But their bench (15 points) disappeared just as Toronto’s (35 points) came alive, led by 21 points from Fred VanVleet. The result was a series-deciding game on hostile ground in Toronto, with history on the line.

The Raptors, whose first season in the N.B.A. was 1995-96, had been to the Eastern Conference finals only once before, in 2016. They lost that year to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who went on to win the N.B.A. finals in seven games over the team Toronto will now face: the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors have won championships in three of the last four seasons and swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference finals to earn another try this year. The Raptors won both of their games against Golden State this season, but that should be little comfort in the face of the formidable challenge ahead.

The Warriors struggled against the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round but have met only mild resistance in the two rounds since. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have expertly weathered the injury absences of DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant, and this is the time of year when Andre Iguodala, the 2015 N.B.A. finals most valuable player, is at his best.

Toronto will lean on its own former finals M.V.P. in Leonard, who is in his first season with the Raptors. Leonard has been sensational throughout the playoffs, whether he was hitting unbelievable game-winners or imposing shut-down defense. Most of his teammates have not been tested the way Leonard has, as a late-postseason regular with the San Antonio Spurs before his trade to Toronto last summer with Danny Green. It will be up to Lowry, Marc Gasol, Pascal Siakam and the rest of the Raptors to summon the poise and sharp execution the Warriors have mastered.

The N.B.A. finals begin Thursday night in Toronto.

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