For the first time in Toronto Raptors history, the team has the chance to compete in the NBA Finals with a Game 6 Eastern Conference finals win at home Saturday evening.
The Raptors will have that opportunity when they face off against the Milwaukee Bucks at Scotiabank Arena beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET. It comes after the Raptors squared off against Milwaukee Thursday evening and while the beginning of the first quarter started with a double-digit deficit, they clawed their way back and finished with a 105-99 win. The victory south of the border came after two intense home court wins.
Daniel Reynolds, editor-in-chief of Raptors HQ, has been closely following the team. He said the mental toughness and wherewithal exhibited by the Raptors has been nothing short of “remarkable.”
“This season what we’ve seen most of all is that the Raptors haven’t folded under pressure. Never mind the increase in talent that they’ve got with Kawhi Leonard, and even veterans like Danny Green and Marc Gasol, (and) the fact (that) in the face of some adversity, they bounced back,” Reynolds told Global News.
“This whole series against the Milwaukee Bucks — they went down 2-0 and I think a lot of people were ready to write them off and they came back. In Game 5, they were down right away in the opening minutes. I was despondent about it and they managed to come back.”
Reynolds said the wins during the 2019 NBA Playoffs have strengthened and broadened the team’s fan base, adding long-term fans have gone through “some pretty dark days in terms of the franchise pretty much being ignored by everyone and obviously operating in the shadow of the Maple Leafs for many years.”
“I think the calculus has changed a little bit. I think there are way more basketball fans in general. And on top of that, everyone likes a winner,” he noted.
“The casual fan starts to see this team is legit. There’s a storyline here that’s worth getting invested in.”
While reflecting on this year’s playoffs run, he said it has been noticeably different. In the past few years, Reynolds said the Raptors fared well in the regular season but stumbled in the playoffs.
“(Winning in the regular season) was important to them at that time. They had to prove to everyone they were a good team, just a baseline good team,” he said.
“The issue of course is every year in the playoffs, they would labour to get anywhere. They have been in the Eastern Conference finals before, and the last time they got there it took the maximum amount of games.”
Questions about post-season success were prevalent up until the beginning of the playoffs. Reynolds said with the acquisition of Leonard, it meant the team needed to load-manage him since he was coming off an injury in the preceding season. He also noted the team needed to integrate Gasol into the roster after a mid-season trade while dealing with shot-term absences by Kyle Lowry, Norman Powell and Fred VanVleet.
“People weren’t really sure what we’d see … so far they’ve actually been better than they were in the regular season, which is pretty astounding,” Reynolds said.
Looking ahead to Game 6
In advance of Saturday evening’s game, Reynolds said there are elements from other games this series that will likely be integral to a Game 6 win.
“If the Raptors get that two-way production from Leonard and get just a little bit of support from the rest of the team, that’s what I’ll be looking at.”