Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
After a frustrating season in which the Raptors will miss the playoffs for the first time in eight years, the team at Raptors Insider is hoping to raise the spirits of Raptors fans across the country with some reminiscing.
“On this Day” will be a new series in which we will look back at some of the most notable games/moments in Raptors history. What better place to start than in the middle of Toronto’s 2019 championship run, two years ago today – game three of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks.
In front of Drake and nearly 20,000 fans at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto grinded their way through 58 minutes of basketball in what might have been the most important victory in the franchise’s history. Kawhi Leonard played a career-high 52 minutes, Marc Gasol hustled through 45 and Toronto kept their season alive, while shifting the entire momentum of the series.
Milwaukee entered the playoffs as the top seed and had swept the Pistons in the first round before winning four consecutive games against the Celtics after Paul Pierce infamously called their season over. The Raptors themselves had little room for error after dropping the first two games of the series, losing the second by 22 points.
With a loss, Toronto would be facing an 0-3 deficit and a daunting comeback, needing to win four games in a row, a feat that no NBA team has ever done in a seven-game series and only five teams in the history of the major North American Sports Leagues (NHL, MLB) have ever completed.
The game displayed great defence by both teams to go along with some timely offence. The Raptors put forth a masterful defensive effort against Milwaukee, limiting Giannis Antetokounmpo to only 12 points. Leonard clamped down Antetokounmpo while Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe shot a combined 6/32, including 2/12 from beyond the arc as the Raptors suffocated the Bucks offence.
Toronto led for the majority of the game but also struggled with their shot in the second half, while running into foul trouble in the fourth; both Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell fouled out before overtime. Lowry with just six minutes left in the fourth, while Norman Powell — who scored a pivotal 19 points off the bench — fouled out just before overtime.
After missing his first eight shots, Fred VanVleet subbed on for Lowry and hit a crucial three in the late stages of the fourth during a near four-minute scoring drought for Toronto.
Pascal Siakam scored 25, while Marc Gasol erased a poor game two performance with a 16-12-7 stat line, however Kawhi Leonard was the real story of game three (and the rest of the series).
On a career-high 52 minutes and a noticeably injured leg, Leonard limped his way to 36 points, eight of them coming in the second overtime to seal the game for the Raptors. Leonard’s dominant postseason showcased several highlight plays but maybe none bigger than his takeover in the second overtime, especially given the stakes. Kawhi delivered on two huge plays in the final frame both extending the Raptors lead and electrifying the building in the process.
With Leonard averaging nearly 30 points throughout the series, the Raptors went on to win the next three games to defeat the Bucks in six and advance to their fist NBA Finals. While Toronto went on to win their first NBA championship, who knows how different this series could have played out if they weren’t able to grind this remarkable game out.
Toronto would be forced to make NBA history having to win four consecutive games, while the Bucks would be one game away from their first NBA Finals appearance since 1974. Thanks to a resilient performance by the Raptors two years ago today, we don’t have to think about that.
While the Bucks gear up for another attempt at an NBA championship this year, the Toronto Raptors remain the last Eastern Conference team to win the Larry O’Brien trophy. Something all Raptors fans should look back on and feel happy about especially given the tumultuous season this year.