For the first time in their 24 year history, the Toronto Raptors have made the NBA Finals. They did this by beating the Milwaukee Bucks 100-94 in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. With their series-clinching victory, they have become the first team from Canada to play for the trophy in NBA history. They will face the Golden State Warriors, who have made the finals 5 years in a row, winning three.
The Raptors were led by all-time-great in the making Kawhi Leonard, who scored 27 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. His performance inspired the Raptors to make their biggest comeback of their postseason so far, battling back from a 15-point deficit in the the third quarter. Kyle Lowry, playing through injury, scored 17 and contributed 8 assists to the Eastern Conference Champions.
In OppaSportsBet’s 2019 NBA Regular Season Recap, we featured the Bucks, who were favorites to reach the finals after winning a league-high 60 games. The team was led by the Greak Freak Giannis Antetokounpo, who is expected by many to be named league MVP. Giannis had an excellent postseason, averaging 25.5 points, 12.2 rebounds, and 5 assists. But his 21 points and 11 boards weren’t enough to help his team force a Game 7 against the Raptors.
The Raptors owe their virgin Finals appearance to All-Star and MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard. The 6’7” forward out of San Diego State spent his first 7 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs. Under Gregg Popovich’s system, Leonard quickly blossomed from a solid defender to one of the best players in the NBA. He made two Finals appearances with the Spurs, losing in 2013 to the Miami Heat before turning the tables on the Florida team and winning the trophy the following year.
Kawhi was heralded by many as the franchise player the Spurs needed after the decline retirement of Big 3 Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili. Nicknamed “the Klaw,” Leonard won two consecutive Defensive Player of the Year awards in 2015 and 2016. But after reports emerged that he was unhappy in San Antonio, Kawhi was traded to the Toronto Raptors in 2018.
The deal proved to be an astute piece of the business for the Canadian team. Leonard averaged 26.6 points and 7.3 rebounds this season, leading his team to the second-best record in the NBA. And just as he did for the Spurs in their deep Playoffs runs, Kawhi has turned it up in the postseason, scoring over 30 points per game and hauling down 8.8 rebounds.
From First Finals to First Trophy?
It was Kawhi that ignited the Raptors’ comeback against the Bucks in Game 6. In his final 11 minutes on the court, he recorded 15 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists. He played faster and harder than anyone else on the court, as evidenced by his hustle to grab his own rebound.
KAWHI WANTS IT MORE pic.twitter.com/KbjHPMARZE— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 26, 2019
The Raptors undoubtedly have a tough Finals ahead of them. The Warriors have been on top for a long time, and they’re not about to roll over for the first timers. If Toronto wants to become the first non-American team to lift the NBA trophy, Kawhi will need to keep up his blistering form.