Toronto Raptors

Raptors join list of teams that met one big challenge on path to NBA Finals

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Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan defended by Cavs forward LeBron James (Getty Images)

The Cavaliers knocked the Raptors out of the Eastern Conference playoffs in a 128-93 blowout on Monday, which marked the third consecutive year in which Toronto has been eliminated by the same team.

It's not the first time a team simply couldn't solve one roadblock in the NBA playoffs. The standard remains the Celtics beating the Lakers seven times in the NBA Finals from 1959-69. Well, at least LA made the NBA Finals. Toronto couldn't do that.

Neither could these teams from the last 40 years. There was always one (sometimes two) hurdles they couldn't overcome.

Here is a look at seven teams that kept coming up just short...

Milwaukee Bucks (1981-87)

Who they were: The Bucks moved to the Eastern Conference in 1980, and Don Nelson's team won the Central Division six straight years with players such as Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, Terry Cummings, Rickey Pierce and Jack Sikma. The 1980-81 and 1986-87 teams had seven players average double figures.

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Biggest hurdle: Philadelphia and Boston. Milwaukee was eliminated by either the 76ers or Celtics in seven consecutive seasons, and that included the Eastern Conference finals in 1983, 1984 and 1986.

Atlanta Hawks (1985-89)

Who they were: Mike Fratello-coached teams that had a ton of talent with Dominique Wilkins, Moses Malone and Doc Rivers. They also had cult favorites such as Spud Webb and Tree Rollins. Throw in some classic uniforms, and it was easy to root for these teams.

Biggest hurdle: The conference semifinals. Atlanta couldn't get out of the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, with the highlight a seven-game series with the Celtics in 1988 that featured the legendary duel between Wilkins and Larry Bird. Atlanta came up on the short end.

Cleveland Cavaliers (1987-94)

Who they were: Lenny Wilkins coached the Cavs through the bulk of this run, and the core was a cast that included Mark Price, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty, Craig Ehlo and Ron Harper (until 1990) and Gerald Wilkins (in 1992). These were excellent teams.

Biggest hurdle: Michael Jordan. Sure, it was the Bulls, but it was Jordan's buzzer-beaters that doomed the Cavs. The Bulls knocked Cleveland out of the playoffs in five of six playoff appearances, including the 1992 Eastern Conference finals.

Sacramento Kings (2000-06)

Who they were: Rick Adelman took Sacramento and built a winner around Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Mike Bibby, Doug Christie and Vlade Divac. The Kings won the Pacific Division in 2002 and 2003.

Biggest hurdle: The Lakers. Los Angeles knocked the Kings out of the playoffs three straight seasons, including the seven-game showdown in the 2002 Western Conference finals. Dallas and Minnesota knocked Sacramento out in the second round the next two years.

Phoenix Suns (2003-08)

Who they were: Mike D'Antoni took over in Phoenix in 2003 and implemented a fast-paced style that helped Steve Nash become a two-time MVP. The Suns took the No. 1 seed in 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Biggest hurdle: The Spurs. Phoenix couldn't beat that system. San Antonio knocked the Suns out of the playoffs four times in this stretch, including the 2005 Western Conference finals.

Indiana Pacers (2010-14)

Who they were: Indiana had a core built around Paul George and Roy Hibbert, one that earned Larry Bird the honor of Executive of the Year in 2012. Frank Vogel coached these defensive-minded teams, and they were tough to beat.

Biggest hurdle: They just couldn't beat the Heat. LeBron James-led Miami teams knocked Indiana out of the conference semifinals in 2012 and the conference finals the next two seasons. That included a seven-game series in 2013.

Toronto Raptors (2013-present)

Who they were: The Raptors built a consistent winner with coach Dwane Casey and the 1-2 guard tandem of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Toronto averaged 55 wins the last three seasons and took the top seed in the Eastern Conference in 2018.

Biggest hurdle: LeBron James. It's the Cavaliers, but it's more about James. The Cavs knocked the Raptors out of the Eastern Conference finals in 2016 and have swept the series in the semifinals the last two years.

And one team that made the NBA Finals…

New York Knicks (1990-96)

Who they were: We can't do this list without at least mentioning New York. Pat Riley took over the Knicks in 1991, and these were the hard-nosed teams built around center Patrick Ewing. Anthony Mason, Charles Oakley and Charles Smith were all part of a team that looked like the second coming of Detroit's "Bad Boys."

But the Bulls knocked the Knicks out of the Eastern Conference playoffs three straight seasons, including the Eastern Conference finals in 1993.

Biggest hurdle: Michael Jordan. We know the Knicks made the NBA Finals in 1994, but we also know what the accompanying asterisk means. Jordan was retired at the time.

The Knicks couldn't take advantage of that two-year window to win an NBA championship, and Jordan returned to knock the Knicks out in the Eastern Conference semifinals in 1996.

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