After Cleveland swept away the Raptors in May of last year- the third 4-0 loss in four years for Toronto- you couldn’t have scripted it any better if you were given three wishes from a genie (shoutout to Steph Curry’s terrible Aladdin commercial). Hell, after Fred VanVleet averaged 2 points for an entire series you most certainly couldn’t have even dreamed it.
The Toronto Raptors are one game away from the NBA Finals.
If they somehow lose two games and walk home emptyhanded, so be it. The buzz around the city tonight was like nothing else and what Kawhi Leonard has brought to this franchise is already of greater heights than any of his predecessors. This is miles away from the 2016 ECF. The Raptors are playing incredible basketball as shown by having the will to go on the road and beat a 60-win Bucks team that certainly didn’t look like one. A team more frustrated with a celebrity on the sidelines than the fact that three-quarters of their players stopped knocking down shots in literally the worst stretch of games possible. It’s a series that, in the second overtime of Game 3, took a 180 that hasn’t been seen since the Cavs 2016 comeback against the Warriors. Will it go down in the same vein as that series? Perhaps not, but the turn of the tides certainly comes close to it.
The last non-LeBron James team in the NBA Finals were the 2010 Boston Celtics. There are 8 year-olds out there who have never seen someone other than LBJ in the Finals. The winner of this series will open the turning of the tides and that’s why this Eastern Conference title is so much more than a regular one. Even if the winner struggles against the heavyweight Warriors. It will feel like an oddity to fans around the world, but that doesn’t mean it’s significance isn’t higher than ever.
Playing the woe-is-me card can get tiring, but in a moment like this, it’s hard to forget where we came from. The lackluster teams year after year. And for this, along with the jokes and Twitter-clowning we received along the way, it’s kind of all worth it. At the very least, going through a plethora of terrible teams followed by a plethora of terrible playoff failures makes everything much more rewarding. It’s not the Warriors, feeling nothing but pure relief after tight series wins. Nor the Celtics, looking for their current generation of players to copy what their last one did. Not even the Bucks, who are really only taking their second swing at a run in the Eastern Conference with this current core. This Raptors team hasn’t officially accomplished the world yet, but it sure feels like it.
The Bucks aren’t going to lay down, but Game 6 is really going to be something.
Saturday night. Toronto. Warm weather. A chance to go to the NBA Finals.
What more could you ask for?