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SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports activities’ Jeff Zillgitt and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Matt Velazquez break down the Raptors’ closeout win over the Bucks that clinched a spot within the NBA Finals.
USA TODAY Sports activities

TORONTO — All of the dangers Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri took proved worthwhile.

Buying and selling for Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol, sacrificing depth, signing Kyle Lowry to a three-year contract in 2017, changing Dwane Casey after final season with first-time NBA head coach Nick Nurse — all value it for the Raptors.

Toronto reached the NBA Finals for the primary time within the franchise’s 24-year historical past with a 100-94 victory in opposition to the Milwaukee Bucks in Recreation 6 on Saturday.

Was it value that wait? That’s a powerful sure from Lowry, who misplaced within the convention finals to Cleveland and LeBron James in 2016 and misplaced to James and the Cavs as the highest seed final season.

“It is taken a very long time to get right here in my profession, 13 years, seven years right here,” Lowry mentioned. “I’ve run into one man (LeBron James) for some time. We got the chance — he left — and we beat a very good crew in Milwaukee. For me, I will savor the second, however I am not glad. Our objective is to win the NBA championship. We’re simply going to maintain getting higher and plugging away.”

That’s a sure from a rustic of Raptors followers who’ve created one the most effective atmospheres within the NBA.

Leonard, the star of those playoffs, had 27 factors, 17 rebounds, seven assists and two steals in Recreation 6, together with 19 factors and 12 rebounds within the second half. Leonard made large bucket after large bucket and grabbed vital rebound after vital rebound throughout a pivotal second-half run.

The MVP chants on the finish of the sport have been a becoming finish to this collection.

“He is the most effective participant within the league, and we’re completely happy he is in Toronto,” Ujiri mentioned on the convention championship trophy presentation.

Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo had 21 factors and 11 rebounds in a crushing studying expertise. Only a hunch: He might be again on this spot. However a Finals look should wait.

“This hurts, however what they did on this playoffs, in opposition to a very good Toronto Raptor crew, and to get to the convention finals, the common season, particular season for us,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer mentioned. “And we really feel like we’re simply getting began. That is the start of our journey. And once more, I could not be extra happy with our crew.”

MORE FROM THE NBA PLAYOFFS

The Raptors will play the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors for the title beginning with Recreation 1 on Thursday in Toronto, the primary time the league has performed a Finals recreation in Canada.

With James headed to the Western Convention to the Los Angeles Lakers, Ujiri felt this was the time to make daring strikes, beginning with the Leonard acquisition.

Milwaukee led the collection 2-Zero. Then Toronto turned the collection round, successful the subsequent 4 video games. The Bucks had not misplaced greater than two consecutive video games all season.

However beginning with Recreation Three, the Raptors elevated their defensive depth, and Nurse made Leonard the first defender on Antetokounmpo. Norman Powell took on an even bigger position off the bench, and Fred VanVleet began making Three-pointers at an unbelievable price.

Leonard was the MVP of the collection and is the primary purpose the Raptors received Recreation 6.

“I simply need to win,” Leonard mentioned. “I do not care about being the most effective participant. I need to be the most effective crew. I’ve at all times mentioned that. Simply earlier than the season after we made the commerce, Masai felt that manner about me. He informed me how he felt and why he made the commerce. It is turning out nicely now. We’re within the Finals, and we’re not finished but.”

Milwaukee led for a good portion of the primary three quarters and had a number of 15-point leads. They have been up 76-61 late within the third quarter and regarded like a crew ready to drive Recreation 7 at residence.

That’s when Leonard took over, fueling a 26-Three Raptors run because the Bucks collapsed, unable to get manufacturing from gamers they relied on all season.

It began with a Leonard three-point play, a foul that ought to’ve by no means been known as as a result of Toronto’s Serge Ibaka pushed Milwaukee’s Ersan Ilyasova into Leonard, who made Toronto’s subsequent basket and assisted on the one after that. Leonard bought a rebound, then bought fouled on a Three-point try. Leonard made two of the foul pictures and grabbed the rebound earlier than getting fouled.

Toronto trimmed Milwaukee’s 15-point result in 76-71 by the tip of the third quarter. Pascal Siakam’s brief jumper put Toronto forward 80-78. The Raptors led for the remainder of the sport.

When it was crunch time on this collection, Toronto took over.

Siakam had 18 factors, Lowry added 17 factors and eight assists and VanVleet scored 14 factors. VanVleet shot 14-of-17 on Three-pointers within the remaining three video games of the collection after going Three-for-25 within the earlier 10 playoff video games.

Per week in the past, it appeared unrealistic the Raptors would win this collection. A crew had fallen behind 2-Zero within the convention finals 56 occasions, and simply 5 groups had come again to win the collection earlier than this matchup.

“To perform what we have finished, successful the Jap Convention, you have to actually really imagine you are able to do it,” Nurse mentioned. “That was type of my message from day one in all coaching camp: We have got crew right here, we have good gamers, we have depth, we have a whole lot of issues.

“We have got to grasp that there are a whole lot of good groups within the East, however we’re proper up there. That perception began issues, and I feel we at all times type of thought that. In order that’s the start line.”

Comply with Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.

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