The Toronto Raptors are going to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history.
Led by Kawhi Leonard, who finished with 27 points, 17 rebounds and seven assists, the Raptors defeated the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals to punch their ticket to the next round.
The Raptors got timely contributions from a number of players, with Pascal Siakam scoring 18 points, Kyle Lowry scoring 17 points and Fred VanVleet chipping in with 14 points off the bench.
For more on another wild game between the Raptors and Bucks, here are some takeaways...
Fred VanVleet did it again.
After hitting a career-best seven 3-pointers in Game 5, VanVleet gave the Raptors a huge boost off the bench in the first half of Game 6 with nine points on 3-for-4 shooting from the perimeter.
Everyone else on the Raptors combined to shoot 3-for-9 from the 3-point line through two quarters of play.
Each of VanVleet's 3s were timely, too. His first came in the opening minute of the second quarter to get the Raptors back on the board following a rough first quarter in which the Bucks limited them to 18 points. The others came in the final minutes of the frame, one to cut Milwaukee's lead to six points, the second to make it a one possession game.
Let it fly, @FredVanVleet! pic.twitter.com/CO3nP2DSsn- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 26, 2019
VanVleet went on to score five points in the second half, giving him 14 for the game.
Prior to Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals, VanVleet had scored in double figures only once in these playoffs - Game 1 of the first round. He's now scored at least 10 points in three straight games.
His impact on the series can't be overstated.
Kawhi Leonard saves the day
The Raptors were starting to lose control of the game in the third quarter, but Kawhi Leonard got them back on track.
With the Raptors trailing 72-58 with 3:46 to play, Leonard scored or assisted on 12 of Toronto's 13 points to close the quarter, the only point he wasn't involved in being a free throw from Norman Powell. Leonard dished out two assists and scored eight points, doing so on 2-for-4 shooting from the field and 4-for-6 from the free throw line.
Count it! 🗣️ pic.twitter.com/9noQEvLNyp- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 26, 2019
Leonard also came up with a big offensive rebound off of one of his own missed free throws that led to two more.
KAWHI WANTS IT MORE pic.twitter.com/KbjHPMARZE- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 26, 2019
Equally as important? The Raptors were able to contain the Bucks during that stretch, holding them to seven points on 1-for-6 shooting from the field.
The Raptors carried that momentum in the fourth quarter to take the lead.
26-3. pic.twitter.com/pIBNsfJ59N- Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) May 26, 2019
Kawhi Leonard vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo
Kawhi Leonard's best plays at the end of these playoffs are going to be incredible...
NSFW pic.twitter.com/AnRjRlZ04p- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 26, 2019
Antetokounmpo did get some revenge later in the quarter, though...
Giannis got his revenge but the Raptors still get the bucket. 😳#NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/0YhhAY7GqH- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 26, 2019
Milwaukee's 3-point shooting
A big reason why the Bucks were able to build a lead in the first half was because of their 3-point shooting.
In the second half, however, the Bucks couldn't buy a shot from deep. Giannis Antetokounmpo went 1-for-3 and Khris Middleton went 2-for-4. Everyone else on the Bucks went 0-for-9.
One of Middleton's makes was tough as well - a turnaround over Kyle Lowry in the corner with the shot clock winding down.
Khris. Middleton. HOW?! 😱#FearTheDeer | #NBAPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/ZiDo9Af8lC- NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 26, 2019
The Raptors, meanwhile, made them when it mattered the most, going 4-for-8 from distance in the fourth.
KAWHI NOT pic.twitter.com/b7em6pCj1a- Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 26, 2019
3-point shooting was a huge source of offence for the Bucks all season long. Not being able to knock down those shots made it easier for the Raptors to pack the paint - another area the Bucks ranked near the top of the league in scoring this season - and load up on Antetokounmpo, who scored 21 points on 7-for-18 shooting from the field in Game 6.
The last team standing between the Raptors and the NBA title are the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.
I'm the only person on our staff who has the Raptors winning the series, but FiveThirtyEight gives them a 59 percent chance of beating the Warriors.
The site's predictions are based on their CARMELO player projections, which "estimate each player's future performance based on the trajectory of similar NBA players" and includes up-to-date depth charts.
Their staff recently had an interesting discussion about their model favouring the Raptors that's worth checking out.
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