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Raptors make first-ever NBA Finals with Game 6 win vs. Bucks

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard

The Toronto Raptors carried the weight of a season, a future, and a nation on their backs on Saturday night in Scotiabank Arena. Yes, their opponent was playing under the burden of having to win a road elimination game, but the Raptors played for much higher stakes.

In a game unlike any other NBA contest played on Canadian soil, the Raptors took a roundhouse punch, got off the mat, and responded with an all-time-great rally.

The Toronto Raptors used a 26-3 run to defeat the Milwaukee Bucks, 100-94, in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, winning the series 4-2 and making their first NBA Finals.

The young Bucks have their future spread out before them. They figure to be at the center of the Eastern Conference title chase for the next several years. Their superstar, Giannis Antetokounmpo, will only get better and more polished. The Bucks’ ceiling figures to rise.

For the Raptors, the urgency of now defined Game 6. Had they lost, they would have been clear underdogs on the road in Game 7. Kawhi Leonard might not have made the NBA Finals. The odds of Kawhi staying were unclear regardless of the outcome of this series, but a seven-game loss would have increased the odds of Kawhi’s departure.

The Raptors, who — like every other East team over the previous eight seasons — ran into LeBron James at this time of year, finally had LeBron out of the way. Kawhi was the closest thing to a LeBron-like presence in the East, and he wore a Raptors jersey. Toronto had this one chance to make the NBA Finals with the best player in the conference. Not pouncing on this Game 6 opportunity could have been a crushing moment for the franchise. Toronto was playing for today; the Bucks figure to have many more tomorrows.

The Raptors’ outlook was bleak late in the third quarter, trailing 76-61, but with everything on the line, Kawhi Leonard answered the call. Kawhi led a 10-0 run to trim the deficit to 76-71 entering the fourth quarter. That 10-0 run became 26-3, good for an 87-79 lead. Late in the game, Kawhi hit yet another 3-pointer on a bounce off the rim — recalling his series winner against the Philadelphia 76ers — to give the Raptors a crucial cushion they preserved in the final minute.

Game 1 of the 2019 NBA Finals, the first Finals to be played in Canada, is Thursday, May 30, at 9 Eastern against the Golden State Warriors.