Kawhi Leonard scored 35 points, 15 in the fourth quarter, as the visiting Toronto Raptors defeated the Milwaukee Bucks 105-99 to move within one game of the first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.
The victory at Fiserv Forum was the first time the visiting team has claimed the spoils in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals series, and Nick Nurse’s team can now claim a Finals berth on home court in Toronto on Saturday night.
Game 7, if necessary, will be played on Monday night in Milwaukee and the prize for the team which advances is the chance to face the two-time defending league champion Golden State Warriors, who swept the Portland Trail Blazers in the Western Conference Finals.
It didn’t look like Toronto were going to stand on the cusp on history at various stages in Friday morning’s contest though, as the Bucks led by as many as 14 points in the first quarter and were up by 12 in the third – but the Raptors kept punching back with runs in the second quarter and down the stretch.
Leonard added seven rebounds and nine assists to go with his 35 points and reserve Fred VanVleet contributed 21 points from the bench for Toronto, while Kyle Lowry had 17 points and Pascal Siakam, a leading contender for the NBA Most Improved Player award, finished with a double-double of 14 points and 13 rebounds.
Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 24 points to lead the Bucks but the Greek Freak only managed to grab six boards, fewer than half his usual average. Point guard Eric Blesdoe had 20 points while backcourt partner Malcolm Brogdon added 18 points and 11 rebounds for Milwaukee. Center Brook Lopez scored 16 points but Khris Middleton could only manage six, although he did record a double-double of 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
After bouncing back from double-digit deficits a number of times in the contest, Toronto wrested the initiative away from the hosts decisively in the fourth quarter and took the lead on a VanVleet three with 8:57 left. Leonard and Marc Gasol also hit from beyond the arc, either side of a Siakam dunk, as the Canadian ballclub took as much as an eight-point lead.
The Bucks though, refused to give up lightly and fought back, allowing Lopez to tie the game with a three-pointer with 2:44 to play. Again though, the Raptors responded in kind as VanVleet sank a trey. Middleton’s layup pulled the Bucks to within two with less than a minute left.
But Toronto center Gasol made one of two foul shots with 34 seconds remaining and another Siakam dunk following a Milwaukee turnover was enough to ice the game for Toronto.
The Bucks led 32-22 after the opening quarter and carried three-point leads at half-time and going into the fourth, but the Raptors had the answers down the stretch and have taken a 3-2 series lead after picking up the last three games.
Game 6 takes place in Toronto in the early hours of Sunday morning (1:30am) live on Sky Sports Arena.