May 25, 2019: Toronto Raptors clinch first Eastern Conference title in franchise history

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The moment people usually remember most from the Toronto Raptors’ 2019 playoff run is Kawhi Leonard’s bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce buzzer-beater against the 76ers, and rightfully so; It’s arguably the greatest shot in franchise history. But the team still had to win two more series against arguably the two best teams in the league to get their hands on the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

The first of those two series came against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Greek Freak had been living up to his name all season, averaging 27.7 points and 12.5 rebounds per game on his way to the MVP award. Not to mention, the Bucks’ roster also featured fellow All-Star Khris Middleton along with Eric Bledsoe and Malcolm Brogdon.

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On top of that, the Bucks were much more rested than the Raptors, sweeping the Pistons in the first round and defeating the Celtics in five games in the second to advance to the Eastern Conference Final. They had played a total of nine games in the playoffs compared to Toronto’s 12. This was not going to be an easy series for the Raptors.

Things got off to just about the worst start possible, too, when the Bucks won both of the first two games in Milwaukee despite a combined 62 points from Leonard. Game 2 was a blowout, 125-103, and sent the Raptors back to Toronto with their tails between their legs. They were now facing a 2-0 deficit that only five teams had ever come back from in conference final history. 

Game 3 at Scotiabank Arena was the closest thing to a must-win game the team had faced all season, and it went right down to the wire.

The Raptors got off to a great start in front of their own fans, jumping out to a nine-point lead at the end of the first quarter, but the Bucks started slowly chipping away behind the absurd rebounding skill of Antetokounmpo. With just over seven seconds left in the fourth quarter, Pascal Siakam missed a pair of free throws that could have iced the game before Middleton tied things up with two seconds on the clock. 

Despite both Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell fouling out before overtime even started, Leonard managed to carry Toronto to the victory with eight points in double-overtime. 

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That victory seemed to galvanize the Raptors, with the team blowing out the Bucks in Game 4 to tie the series. From there, they rode their momentum to a tight 105-99 victory — in which they trailed by ten points at the end of the first quarter — before closing out the series at home on May 25, 2019, with a 100-94 win.

It was the first time in franchise history that the Raptors had won the Eastern Conference title, and just the sixth time a team had ever come back from a 2-0 deficit in the conference finals. However, they still weren’t done. Next up was a date with the two-time reigning NBA champions: the Golden State Warriors.

As we all know, they went on to win that series in six games to secure the NBA title. But it never would have happened if it weren’t for an epic comeback against Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Milwaukee Bucks.