Raptors on brink of first Finals

Kawhi Leonard, guarded by Giannis Antetokounmpo, passing the ball during Toronto's Game Five 105-99 win over Milwaukee on Thursday. Leonard had a career-high nine assists at the Bucks' home court as the Raptors lead the Eastern Conference Finals seri
Kawhi Leonard, guarded by Giannis Antetokounmpo, passing the ball during Toronto's Game Five 105-99 win over Milwaukee on Thursday. Leonard had a career-high nine assists at the Bucks' home court as the Raptors lead the Eastern Conference Finals series 3-2. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Leonard, VanVleet rack up points in third straight win over Bucks

MILWAUKEE • The Toronto Raptors are one win away from bringing the NBA Finals to Canada for the first time.

Sparked by a game-high 35 points from Kawhi Leonard and a resurgent Fred VanVleet, they grabbed a 105-99 victory at the Milwaukee Bucks and a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference Finals of the National Basketball Association play-offs on Thursday.

If Toronto, who entered the league only in 1995, win Game 6 at home today, then Canada - the birthplace of basketball inventor James Naismith and home to the NBA's first game in 1946 - will host the Finals' first two games.

Hailing "the game that Leonard played tonight", fellow All-Star Kyle Lowry said: "It was pretty good. Big stage. On the road."

But it did not exactly go to plan for Toronto, who were down by as many as 14 points in the first quarter, as many as 12 in the third and three going into the final period.

The turnaround had everything to do with Leonard, who had 15 points in the final 12 minutes, and VanVleet, who scored 21 points on seven-from-nine three-point attempts, the most off the bench in the team's play-off history.

The reserve guard, who drove from Milwaukee to Rockford, Illinois, on Wednesday, revealed that becoming a new father for the second time had turned his game around, and his formula for success was "zero sleep, have a lot of babies, go out there and get loose."

He added: "There are a lot of fighters on this team. It's on the road, and you have to weather the storm. We did a good job of that tonight."

His last three-pointer with 2min 21sec left gave the Raptors the lead for good at 98-95 and his coach Nick Nurse felt he had been "kind of due one of these nights because we know he's a good shooter".

Most Valuable Player front runner Giannis Antetokounmpo paced the Bucks, who have lost three straight games for the first time this term, with 24 points, but his team were just 32.3 per cent from beyond the arc to Toronto's 41.9 per cent.

Whichever team that will emerge as the victors of the East, though, will have to face a fresh Golden State Warriors.

Game 1 of the NBA Finals is scheduled for May 30, by when the two-time defending NBA champions would have had nine days off. It will be their joint-longest rest since making it to the showpiece event for the fifth straight year, something that coach Steve Kerr is "happy" for.

But he will still be without All-Star Kevin Durant. They confirmed that the forward, who has missed the last five games after hurting his calf against the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semi-finals, will not be available for the opener.

Centre DeMarcus Cousins is also still out since tearing his quadriceps on April 16.

But the Warriors remain hopeful the duo can recover to play some part in the Finals.

DPA, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2019, with the headline 'Raptors on brink of first Finals'. Print Edition | Subscribe