Much like everyone on NBA Twitter during the summer of 2018, I had my notifications on for Adrian Wojnarowski. In those days, questions were flying everywhere — who wins the LeBron sweepstakes? DeMarcus Cousins signed with who? Paul George is re-upping with the Thunder for how many more years? All these compelling stories made for a great off-season. But for myself, it was just a way to forget about Toronto’s disappointment once again.
A team that had just come off a 59-win season and finished first in the conference had been swept for the second consecutive year in the second round by LeBron James and the Cavaliers. So when Woj dropped the bomb at 4:23 in the morning that changed the Raptors franchise forever, I was speechless.
Toronto is close to a deal to acquire Spurs All-Star Kawhi Leonard, league sources tell @ChrisBHaynes and me. Trade package includes DeMar DeRozan, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) July 18, 2018
After the Game 5 win in Milwaukee on Thursday Night, I lost my words again. Every basketball fan in Toronto may have lost their collective voice for a moment. In between the excitement of winning the biggest game in franchise history and the sudden realization that Toronto is only one win away from an NBA Finals berth was a feeling that’s not so common in Raptor fandom — postseason optimism.
With Milwaukee on the ropes and on the road, this is Toronto’s best opportunity to book their ticket to the NBA Finals against the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. Here are the details for tonight’s crucial game.
Where to Watch:
Sportsnet, 8:30 PM EST
Toronto – Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Pascal Siakam, Marc Gasol
Milwaukee – Eric Bledsoe, Malcolm Brogdon, Khris Middleton, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Brook Lopez
Toronto – OG Anunoby (abdomen – OUT), Patrick McCaw (personal – OUT)
Milwaukee – Donte DiVincenzo (heel – OUT), Pau Gasol (foot – OUT)
Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
It was 2012 and the Boston Celtics had just won a big Game 5 on the road against LeBron James and the Miami Heat. After being down 2-0 in the series, Boston rallied its way into winning three in a row heading back home for a chance to advance to the NBA Finals. With his legacy on the line after flaming out in the Finals a season prior, LeBron James put up a performance for the ages on his way to a Game 6 and 7 blowout. On the other side, San Antonio raced out to a 2-0 lead against Oklahoma City, before losing four games in a row to the lower seed Thunder. Sound familiar?
It can go one of two ways for Toronto and they can’t think they’re in the clear here. Giannis has shown all season long he can take control of the game on both sides of the ball and he has yet to have a monster game this series. But unlike Miami who had gone through heartbreak the season prior, this Milwaukee Bucks squad has yet to face considerable adversity like this. And unlike Miami, Giannis is not LeBron James. Toronto wants to make the NBA Finals? This is their chance.
Shots Must Fall
All playoffs long, Raptor fans have been calling for Nick Nurse’s head for playing Fred VanVleet minutes in which he was a complete negative. Against Orlando he was being completely outplayed by Michael Carter-Williams, was having trouble keeping up with Terrence Ross, and would dribble the air out of the ball for whole possessions. Against Philadelphia it was more of the same, unable to handle the length of both squads. But Nurse kept him on the court knowing a breakout was past due. Finally, VanVleet responded, averaging 17 points and five threes per game over the last two contests.
Danny Green is one of many players that was immense all season and was a steadying force in the starting lineup all year. He may not look like it now, but all he needs is to hit one 3 in the first quarter. Just watch the fans explode. VanVleet has shown that all you need is to see the ball go through the hoop early and see your confidence skyrocket. Toronto needs to win by double digits tonight and Danny Green needs to be a big part of it.
Enjoy The Moment
If you’re like me, you’ve seen the Raptors when our hope was a frontcourt of Hedo Turkoglu, Chris Bosh, and Andrea Bargnani. We will win 50 games they said. You’ll remember when Sonny Weems, DeMar DeRozan, Jarrett Jack, and Ed Davis gave Raptor fans that feeling that one day we’ll make the playoffs. You’ll remember the days of Jason Kapono and Reggie Evans, finally having someone who is actually good in one part of the game.
Now we have Pascal Siakam, an up and coming All-Star that plays both sides of the ball. We have Masai Ujiri, who doesn’t make questionable free agency decisions and drafts well (see Rafael Araujo). We have Marc Gasol, who for years was the leagues best centre. Kyle Lowry, whose jersey will be retired one day in Toronto. And we have Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi Leonard. This has been the single best season in franchise history, the best six-year stretch in the franchises’ history. Whatever the result of the game, whatever the result of the rest of the postseason, enjoy this moment in Raptor history. It may never reach these heights again — but we can remember this run as one for the ages.