The Drought Is Over!!!!
Canada is a city of promise once again. On May 25, 2019, the Toronto Raptors ended the drought by winning the East. General Manager Masai Ujiri had a purpose to bring respect to the city of Toronto without any personal ties with anyone. Trading away All-Star shooting guard DeMar DeRozan was one of the few heartless acts that Ujiri did, however, was necessary in order to elevate the Raptors to the next step. When Ujiri initially traded away DeRozen for Kawhi Leonard, both Kawhi and the Raptor fans were all enraged. However, looking at those reactions now, it almost seems laughable as the Raptors have managed to defeat the first seed Milwaukee Bucks and are now headed to the NBA finals. This win captivates a chance for not only Toronto but, Canada to officially make a stride to greatness. Although the Bucks will be going home without another chance to make the finals this year, let's dive into what both teams have done in this playoff run.
Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors have officially gained respect throughout the league. The moves that Ujiri made were a bit controversial, however, required to get the job done. The Raptors played an unforgettable performance in front of arguably the greatest fan base in the NBA. Considering that a whole country is supporting the Raptors, it is safe to say that the organization felt in need to repay the fan base of Toronto a gesture of appreciation. Acquiring Kawhi was that gesture as he is the best thing that happened to this franchise as he led the Raptors to their first ever finals appearance. Despite Kawhi only being apart of the organization for one year, his leadership and performance in this year's playoffs sparked a flame for not only the roster but also for the fans. This conference final will forever be in the history books as one of the greatest performances the league has ever seen. This can be proved when looking at each game of this series.
When looking at game one, the Raptors had to carry their tradition by losing the first game of the series. The outstanding production of Kyle Lowry who scored an impressive 30 points with eight rebounds was not enough to win this game. In fact, even the MVP of the playoffs this year being Kawhi Leonard managed to score 31 points, and nine rebounds were still not enough to defeat the Bucks. The Raptors at one point in this game managed to take the lead, however, choked in the last few possessions of the game. With Marc Gasol missing 3 crucial shots to Danny Green turning over the ball, missing two crucial free throws, and missing a jump-shot, allowed the Bucks to win game one. The final score of game one was 108-100.
Game two was also an unfortunate defeat for the Raptors. Kawhi Leonard’s 31 point game was not enough to win this game as the rest of the team was absent. The Bucks managed to win this game due to, their depth. Ersan Ilyasova, George Hill, and Malcolm Brogdon all scored more than 12 points with Illaysova scoring 17. The Raptors, however, did not get the same privilege from their bench as they struggled to land any shots. Many NBA fans suspected that the Bucks were going to make it to the NBA finals, however, the next four games that they would play were not in their favour. The final score for this game was, a staggering 125-103.
The Raptors in game three revived their previous two games. This game displayed the defensive side of what the Raptors are capable of. Toronto had one objective to complete in this game which was, to limit Giannis Antetokounmpo offensive game. With only scoring 12 points with a horrendous shooting percentage of 31%, the Raptors used that as momentum throughout the game. Pascal Siakam, Kawhi Leonard, and Norman Powell all had incredible games of scoring more than 18 points. They were the wave of momentum for the Raptors as they managed to keep their confidence at a consistent level. Toronto never looked hopeless in this series which determined why they managed to win this game. Game three displayed the maturity and experience that the Raptors have. Although this game did go to double overtime, the Raptors still managed to win. Despite the Bucks depth stepping up to the table, it was still not enough to defeat the Raptors. This game could have been won by either team, however, by the Raptors winning this game, it set the tone for the rest of the series.
The story for game four was the Toronto bench. Norman Powell, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka all managed to score above 12 points. Ibaka, however, had one of the best performances in his playoff career by scoring 17 points including 13 rebounds. Although he did struggle from the three in this game, overall Ibaka played a memorable game four. Kyle Lowry also showed the world why he is an All-Star in the NBA as he managed to score 25 points with 6 assists. Lowry’s play-making skills allowed the Raptors to gain momentum in this game. Even though he only had six assists, he would be the one to spark the ball movement for the Raptors in most possessions of game four. Just like the Bucks in game two, the Raptors managed to get their revenge as they blew them out with the final score being 120-102.
With the impressive win of game four, Kawhi Leonard refused to allow the Bucks to win game five. This game was the game that determined who would win this entire series. The Bucks were in their home court and managed to lose despite being up by 14 points in this game. With the highest scoring game for Kawhi of 35 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds in this series, the youngest finals MVP showed the Bucks as to why he earned that award. Fred VanVleet was also a big part of the Raptors winning as he managed to score 21 points with 7/9 shooting from the three. VanVleet was in the zone due to his son being born on the same day. With the impressive comeback that the Raptors displayed, the Bucks realized that they were in a tight position. Milwaukee was not prepared or equipped enough to take down the Raptors as most of the roster for Toronto have all either made the Finals or, the Conference Finals. The reality for the Bucks is, all of their best players have never reached this far into the playoffs which is why they would sometimes seem a bit lost on the court. The Bucks had a chance to win this game by fouling however failed to due to, the lack of realization that every possession counts in the playoffs. By the Raptors winning game five, it silenced Bango the mascot and the fans to not be as cocky as they were during the entire playoffs.
Game six was the most important game for the Raptors organization. The Raptors realized that they have an opportunity to make history in not only the city of Toronto but for the entire Country of Canada. With this game being the 100th game for the Raptors in the playoffs, Kawhi Leonard and the rest of the organization new that they had to win this game. Playing in the Scotia-bank Arena was the Raptors only chance in making the Finals. This feat was accomplished by a historical performance by Kawhi Leonard. With scoring 27 points, a playoff career high of 17 rebounds, 7 assists, with 2 blocks and 2 steals, the Bucks had troubles in striving to stop Kawhi Leonard. However, Pascal Siakam and Fred VanVleet cannot be forgotten in this game. Siakam towards the end of the game scored the biggest free throws of his entire career. By Siakam making those free throws, it allowed the Raptors to win this game. VanVleet was once again impressive from the three-point line with 4/5 shooting.
History was made as the Raptors managed to create an incredible team despite all the years of sweat and tears. The suffering is over for the Raptors as they have finally earned a chance to win an NBA championship. Toronto has always been one of the best Eastern Conference teams by being in the top three for the last three seasons. DeRozan was a huge part of that as he will always be a treasure for the Raptors organization. Toronto will always love and appreciate what DeRozan has done for the organization as he did lead the Raptors to their first ever Eastern Conference Finals. Though DeRozan was not able to do what Kawhi did, he is still and will always be known as arguably the fan favourite of Toronto.
Although the Bucks lost this series, they still managed to put an impressive fight against the Raptors. The Bucks at one point were 2-0 in this series which resulted in many people thinking that the Bucks would be in the NBA finals. However, the question remains, what happened?
Going into this series, everyone felt that the Bucks were going to win due to a number of factors. Milwaukee was the better offensive team overall. They had multiple threats against the Raptors that could have been used differently. Three-point shooting was arguably the biggest threat that the Bucks had in their arsenal. With players such as Ersan Ilyasova, Brook Lopez, Khris Middleton, Nikola Mirotic, George Hill, and Malcolm Brogdon, the three-point play should have been most of their offence. Although the Raptors did play amazing defense throughout the entire series, having that many offensive minds that the Bucks possessed should have been enough to defeat the Raptors. In fact, for some of their games, the three-point offensive play would benefit them especially in not only the games they won but, in games five and six. The last two games of this series will forever haunt the Bucks moving forward. In both games, the Bucks managed to be on top with double-digit leads however would fall apart once the second half would start.
These last two games the Bucks played were very similar to how Portland played in the Western Conference Finals due to the lack of stability in keeping their leads. The Bucks lacked consistency throughout the quarters as they felt trapped during certain plays due to Toronto’s ambition to win. Star player Giannis Antetokounmpo struggled in these last two games from mainly the free throw line. In both games, Giannis managed to miss half of his free throw attempts which would of been crucial points for both games. in game five for example, if he made all of his free throws, it would have been only a one-point game instead of losing by six which could have resulted in a different outcome for the Bucks.
Although this conference finals loss was a tough one to swallow for the Bucks, it was also crucial for them to lose the way they did. Going into the playoffs, most fans felt that the Bucks were going to make it to the NBA finals. However, what those fans realized was, for the past few seasons, the Bucks could never make it passed the first round. This is important due to the lack of experience this team has. With Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova having the most playoff experience shows why the Bucks lost this series. When looking at the Stars for both teams, Giannis before this season has only been in the first round. Kawhi, however, has made it to the finals twice before this series and even managed to win an NBA championship where he would take home the finals MVP.
This is a huge factor for the Bucks as most if not all of the players on the Raptors have all either been in the conference finals or even in the NBA finals. This loss for the Bucks was necessary if they want to win in the future. Every great player has lost at least one series that sparks their journey to greatness. From Lebron James losing in the Finals against the Spurs in 2010 to, Kobe Bryant losing to the Celtics in 2008 are examples of great players losing in their primes. For Giannis, this series will be that spark to allow him to take his game from a superstar level to an all-time great just like Kobe Bryant and Lebron James.
The Bucks should be celebrating that this loss happened this early in their young dynasty. Now that the Bucks have this experience, they are already one step ahead from the other dynasty in the East being the Philadelphia 76ers. Giannis and the Bucks are going to be even better next year which is a scary thought to think about. This loss will forever be known as the loss that changed Giannis Antetokounmpo’s strive to take his game to the next level.