The Toronto Raptors are going to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. Down by 15 points in the second half, the Raptors battled back to secure a 100-94 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 to win the Eastern Conference finals 4-2.
Knocking down six 3-pointers in the first quarter, the Bucks jumped out to an early double-digit lead. They were up by as many as 15 points early in the second quarter, and looked to have full control of the game. Toronto was ready to rise to the challenge, though, and battled back. They started making some 3s of their own, and cut the deficit down to six at halftime.
The second half followed a similar pattern, as the Bucks once again built their lead up to 15 points, but the Raptors came roaring back. With 10 minutes to play in the fourth, the Raptors took their first lead since the opening few minutes on a bucket by Pascal Siakam, and led the rest of the way. It wasn't easy, though, as the Bucks kept things within striking distance until the final seconds.
Kawhi Leonard led the Raptors with another epic performance, finishing with 27 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists and one huge slam over Giannis Antetokounmpo. As for the Greek Freak, he was once again flustered by the Raptors defense. He finished with 21 points, 11 rebounds and four assists, but didn't take over in the way the Bucks needed.
Here are four main takeaways from Toronto's Game 6 victory:
Toronto's risk was rewarded
When Masai Ujiri made the call to trade for Kawhi Leonard, he knew there was a chance he would only be in Toronto for one season. That risk still exists. But the reward has already been paid pretty much in full. The Toronto Raptors are going to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. And to state the obvious, there is no way this happens without Kawhi.
That said, trading for Kawhi wasn't the only risk Ujiri took. He also fired Dwane Casey after he'd won Coach of the Year and gave the reins to a first-time head coach in Nick Nurse, who changed this conference finals when he shifted Kawhi onto Giannis in Game 3.
Ujiri also traded away a big chunk of what was the best bench in basketball at the deadline to bring in Marc Gasol, and that wasn't looking great when the Raptors' bench went in the tank for a good part of these playoffs. But all's well that ends well, and in the end, everyone in Toronto has Kawhi to thank.
Leonard has been the best player in the playoffs. That is not disputable. He hit one of the most memorable game-winners in NBA history to take out Philly in Game 7 of the second round. He completely outshined likely regular-season MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo in the conference finals. For years the Raptors lost playoff series in which they were the better overall team because the best individual player was on the other side. Now they have the best player. And even if they only have him for this one year, it was all worth it, whether they win the title or not.
What happens to the Bucks this summer?
This is one of the most interesting questions in the league now. Milwaukee is going to be really good moving forward because they have Giannis and will almost certainly re-sign Khris Middleton to a max deal. But they gave a ton of money to Eric Bledsoe, and how will that impact their decision to potentially match a big offer sheet for Malcolm Brogdon and/or Brook Lopez? Will the young shooters Pat Connaughton and Donte DiVincenzo come along enough to keep the pace-and-space system alive?
Again, the Bucks will be good, and if Giannis takes another step, particularly with his visibly improving jumper, he could make up for anything they might lose on his own. But the East is legit at the top and who knows about the Knicks and Nets potentially moving into the elite as well after potentially a big summer. Thinking this is only the beginning for the Bucks would be a mistake. There is a very reasonable scenario in which it could also be the end. Remember, Giannis is a free agent in 2021. That gives them two years to prove they are a championship team with not a lot of flexibility to add to the roster.
Good for Kyle Lowry
Lowry has been a really good player, an All-Star, for a long time, and he has taken a beating for some of his playoff shortcomings and for the general disappointment the Raptors have been in postseasons past -- which had a lot more to do with LeBron James than it did Lowry or anyone else.
Still, Lowry deserves this moment. The fans chanted his name. He couldn't wait to get that NBA Finals hat on. Lowry posted 17 points and eight assists on 6-of-10 shooting including 3 of 4 from three in Game 6. For the conference finals, Lowry posted 19.1 PPG on 51-percent shooting including 46.5 percent from three. He was tough. He made winning plays. Big shots. Defended his butt off. Kawhi will get most of the credit, but Lowry was gutty, man. He was everywhere he needed to be when the Raptors needed him to be there. Good for him.
Shout out to Fred VanVleet
VanVleet was flat out terrible for a big stretch of these playoffs. But you talk about rewriting your story -- this dude dropped 11 threes in Games 5 and 6 and is absolutely one of the heroes of this Raptors story. Nobody cares about the struggles now. Nobody will even remember them. VanVleet was gigantic in the biggest moments of this franchise's history. He stepped up and made shots, plain and simple, and Toronto will need him to keep doing it to have a chance against the Warriors.
LIVE Game 6 updates
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