Toronto is just one win away from reaching the NBA Finals for the first time after they came from behind to stun the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Raptors, who lost the first two games of the series, now lead 3-2 after they came from 12 points down to deal the Bucks their first three-game losing streak of the season.
The did it in a frantic, rollercoaster final quarter where the lead changed multiple times before they held their nerve at the death to win 105-99.
They did it on the back of more Kawhi Leonard heroics as the star forward’s 2019 Playoffs campaign continues to rise up the ranks of the greatest hot-streaks the NBA post-season has known.
Leonard finished with 35 points, seven rebounds and nine assists, but it was the timely nature of his bombs that proved fatal for the Bucks.
Leonard scored an astonishing 15 points in the fourth quarter, at one point scoring 10 of his team’s 12 points as they came from behind to snatch the lead mid-way through the final quarter.
According to the NBA, Leonard’s seventh game with 35 or more points this post-season makes him one of just six players in the history of the league to achieve the feat before progressing through to the NBA Finals, joining legends Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon.
Leonard showed no obvious signs of the leg soreness that bothered him the previous two games, hitting the 30-point mark for the fourth time in the series.
Leonard’s fourth quarter streak, which included back-to-back three-point bombs saw Toronto ahead 85-81 with eight minutes to play.
A Pascal Siakam dunk two minutes later took the visitors to an eight point lead with less than six minutes on the clock, forcing the Bucks to burn another timeout.
The Bucks were able to tie it up at 93-93 with just over two minutes to play.
The insanely see-sawing contest then swung violently towards the Bucks with two minutes to play when MVP candidate Giannis Antetekounmpo was forced out of the game when he twisted his ankle guarding Leonard.
Antetekounmpo stayed on the ground as Leonard dribbled up the other end after the Greek Freak had been pressing Leonard up the court.
He was able to return two plays later, but the fact he was rested for two crucial plays at the death left Bucks fans seething.
Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer defended the decision to bench his best player when he was needed the most, saying Giannis physically needed a moment to recover.
“He just looked like he was in a lot of pain and couldn’t move,” Budenholzer said.
“We had an offensive possession and (we decided to) maybe get someone out there who could move and make a shot.
“I think the adrenaline kind of wore off and he was able to go back in.”
Marc Gasol eventually hit one of two free throws to give the Raptors a 100-97 lead with 37 seconds to play.
After the Bucks failed to get a shot off Pascal Siakam stuck a nail in the Bucks’ coffin with an uncontested jam after the pressuring Bucks defence was unable to find the quick foul they were chasing.
The referees appeared to miss the moment Kyle Lowry was tackled by two defenders as play was allowed to go on where Siakam put Toronto ahead 102-97 with 16 seconds on the clock.
That’s what sealed it.
Fred VanVleet was the other star for the Raptors, hitting seven of nine three-pointers, while Antetekounmpo finished with 24 points and six boards.
The Bucks had shot out to a 12 point lead in the third quarter to have the home crowd rocking in Milwaukee.
But then Leonard stood up with the game on the line to set up the rollercoaster final quarter.
A victory at home Sunday (AEST) would set up a match-up with the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors.
— with AP