Milwaukee Bucks, NBA Playoffs, Toronto Raptors

Toronto closes out Milwaukee, punches ticket to first-ever Finals

The Toronto Raptors never stopped fighting, closing out the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 to head to the first finals in franchise history.

Toronto never gave up. Even after falling behind 0-2 in the series and in a 15-point hole in Game 6.

The Bucks came into Toronto on Saturday reeling off its first three-game losing streak of the season. Not ideal timing. The Raptors deserve a metric ton of credit for storming back and making that a Bucks four-game losing streak.

The teams’ celebrity fans took center stage in Game 5, from Drake giving Nick Nurse a shoulder rub to Mallory Edens trolling the rapper and the battle subsequently spilling onto social media. Bovada even put out a prop bet for Game 6 at +225 if Toronto’s ambassador gives the coach another massage. Alas, it didn’t pay out.

Giannis Antetokounmpo said Milwaukee wouldn’t fold and the team held true to that promise, coming out strong with a 31-point first quarter. But as they’ve done all series, Toronto fought back, putting the defensive clamps on and entered halftime down only seven.

The game swung back and forth, teetering on opposing runs. Since starting off 6-3, the Raptors trailed until taking back the lead at the 9:48 mark in the fourth quarter. Toronto surfed the crowd’s energy and rode a wave of momentum to the final buzzer.

The Raptors won the series despite losing the rebounding war 311 to 268.

Takeaways

Kawhi kept digging deeper

Leonard looked absolutely gassed toward the end of the third quarter, coming up short on a lot of his shots and free throws. He deserves to be tired after averaging over 41 minutes in these six games. But a small play sparked a roaring flame.

Leonard grabbed his own rebound on a missed free throw and continued to be the Raptors lifeblood. He gained steam in the fourth, throwing one down on Giannis, blocking him on the other end, making shots and creating them for others. He’s on a historic postseason run and he’s willed this team passed the Bucks.

Fittingly, Leonard skyed for the series-sealing rebound on a missed free throw with five seconds left in the game. He knocked down both of his own free throws to put the Raptors up six and sent them to the franchise’s first-ever Finals.

Giannis must find consistency from the line

Saying the Greek Freak needs to fine-tune his shot isn’t ground-breaking analysis. But it’s the final chink in his armor. Antetokounmpo only made half his attempts from the charity stripe in Game 6, which is never good enough, but especially not for an elimination game on the road.

Milwaukee reached the bonus early in the third quarter, but Antetokounmpo couldn’t totally make the Raptors pay and snuff out their advances. His shot already improved leaps and bounds in the past year alone and it will undoubtedly be the emphasis of his offseason.

Next: Role players are defining the Eastern Conference Finals

Fred VanVleet needs to keep having kids

FVV continued to be a revelation off the bench, knocking down 3 after 3 and providing Toronto a sorely needed shot in the arm. Since his girlfriend, Shontai Neal, gave birth to their son between Games 3 and 4, the Raptor spark plug shot a blistering 82.3 percent from beyond the arc and averaged 16 points in that three-game span.

VanVleet’s the polar opposite of Danny Green, who’s been M.I.A. He’s become a zero on the offensive end and it’s clearly in his head at this point. Green was fed wide open looks in the corner and his wayward attempts keep clanging off the rim. He finished Game 6 with zero points in 14 minutes and found himself on the bench down the stretch. He’s gone 4-19 for the series from 3.

For the Raptors to have a shot against the Warriors, they’re going to need Green to overcome his serious struggles and give them a 3-and-D wing to combat Golden State.

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