Despite many people waking up questioning the reality of last night’s Game 5 win, the Toronto Raptors are indeed just a win away from reaching their first ever NBA Finals berth in franchise history. It was the most unlikely of games. The Raptors opened the contest down 18-4, and shooting under 30 percent. And one that saw Fred VanVleet play like a proud father with a renewed set of priorities, realizing he gets paid to simply play a game.
It’s perhaps the most surprising turn of events: VanVleet, who shot nine percent (9%!) in Game 3, who was literally played off the floor at times against the Sixers, who has posted five 0-for games these playoffs, has made ten of his last 12 three-pointers following the birth of his first born son. VanVleet provided Kawhi Leonard with the requisite amount of clutch plays in the final quarter of the Raptors’ Game 5 road victory over the Bucks, and is indeed now celebrating a legendary performance.
Fri: Celebrated a legendary 20-pt performance in a G5 win https://t.co/j40mS7AcaO— Joel Stephens (@_JoelStephens_) May 24, 2019
Yes, that’s me calling his huge game. I have my moments.
But beyond that, this Raptors squad once again proved they are cut from a different cloth this season. Marc Gasol, for instance, was having a notably awful game. But he too came up huge in the final minutes, hitting a critical three pointer from the left wing (his first points on the night) to push the Raptors lead to seven with under five minutes remaining. But how did we get here?
The Bucks entered Game 5 with a 33-0 record when leading after three quarters, both in the regular season and the postseason. They also hadn’t lost three games in a row all season. Down by three heading into the fourth, the Raptors would need to take something the Bucks have never given up. Things started to change around the eight minute mark.
Up 81-79, the Bucks would fail to score a point for the next two and a half minutes of game time. Meanwhile, the Raptors would rip off the game-changing 10-0 run that opened up their chances of stealing the road game they’d need to take in order to win the series. Starting with a pair of Leonard triples over Brook Lopez, the Raptors beat Milwaukee into a timeout, and continued to score afterwards. The Bucks simply had no response for Toronto’s will to win this game.
No screen. Whi's got this.— Toronto Raptors (@Raptors) May 24, 2019
That’s your turning point. When the game was within reach for both teams, it was the experienced, composed team that came out on top. It was Leonard’s career night getting his teammates involved (35 points plus nine assists, all leading to threes, for a total of 62 points) that really made this victory a reality. Without his willingness to trust his teammates, this game likely would’ve resulted in a loss. But with VanVleet coming up huge for a career-high total of seven threes, Leonard has never been more comfortable giving up the ball in big moments.
The Bucks of course would make their push in crunch time — Brook Lopez drilled a deep three to tie the game at 93 with under three minutes remaining, but the wherewithal of the Raptors’ role players never wavered in this one. There was VanVleet once again, putting a cap on his night, by drilling another three to give Toronto some breathing room. The Bucks never got back out in front.
By the time the clinching bucket was made — a Pascal Siakam dunk off a broken play to go up five — the Bucks were already in scramble mode. Now the Raptors have a chance to close out the Conference Finals at home on Saturday. But first, let’s take this moment to cherish where we are.