Toronto Raptors lead series and are one game away from NBA Finals
When the Toronto Raptors were trailing by ten points early on in the biggest game of the franchise’s history; Kawhi Leonard simply told his teammates: embrace the moment. Those words must have been ringing in his teammate’s ears’ throughout Thursday’s game.
“This is why we’re here,” he reminded them.
Now the Raptors are in uncharted territory. They are just one win away from the NBA Finals.
Leonard was acquired in the off-season precisely for nights like this. And he showed no signs of the leg pain that troubled him throughout Game Four. Therefore, he scored 35 points. Including 15 during the fourth quarter. Furthermore, he added a career-high nine assists and seven rebounds to lead the Toronto Raptors to a thrilling 105-99 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
“I’m not afraid of the moment. I enjoy it,” said Leonard. He also recorded his 11th 30-point performance in the post-season for Toronto. Who have taken a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals with their historic win. Never before has Toronto won three games in a conference final. They can book a berth in the finals with one last victory in Saturday’s Game Six.
Meanwhile, Lowry took a glance at the stat sheet in the post-game news conference and exclaimed: “The game he played tonight, 35, 9 and 7 was a pretty good game. It’s a pretty good game on the big stage and on the road. Superstar.” He isn’t wrong.
Also, three days after his girlfriend gave birth to their son Fred Jr., Fred VanVleet had seven three-pointers as part of a playoff career-high 21 points. Lowry was playing through what he called “pretty bad” pain with a sprained thumb. However, he had 17 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. Also, Pascal Siakam had 14 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.
Meanwhile, Giannis Antetokounmpo had 24 points to lead Bucks. Who with 60 wins had the best record in the league in the regular season. The Bucks hadn’t lost three straight games all season. They will be hoping that they don’t lose a fourth.
“This was a super hard win tonight, super hard,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “And we have to play with a tremendous amount of effort.”
The Raptors stumbled out at the start and dug themselves into an early 14-point hole with terrible shooting. However, thanks to their stifling defence, they clawed their way back to take their first lead late in the second quarter. The Bucks led 75-72 with one quarter remaining.
VanVleet connected on his sixth three of the night. Before Leonard drained two in a row as the Raptors took a four-point lead with just under eight minutes to play. Siakam dunked to cap a 10-0 Raptors run to give them an eight-point cushion. The Bucks rallied to cut it to four with 5:31 remaining.
Marc Gasol connected on a three-pointer. This, his first points of the game, and it put Toronto up by seven. However, Antetokounmpo’s three made it a two-point game with four minutes left. Following this, Brook Lopez and VanVleet traded threes. Before Leonard drained three free throws to give the Raptors a four-point lead with a minute to play.
Gasol made one of two free throws with 34.7 left. The Raptors got the ball back on the next possession when a video review showed the ball bouncing off Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon and out of bounds.
The Raptors inbounded the ball to Leonard, who heaved the ball over a Milwaukee swarm to Lowry, who passed the ball to a wide-open Siakam. The forward sauntered in for a seemingly easy dunk with 16 seconds to play and it was game over.
The Raptors coach was thrilled with Leonard. Nurse said: “It’s a great competitive spirit. He couldn’t wait for the playoffs to get here, and I think he’s played a lot of minutes and he’s banged up and he says ‘everybody is banged up but I want to play and I’m going to play and I’m ready to play.”