It was like a scene out of a movie.
Approximately two-and-a-half hours before tip-off of Game 6 of the Easern Conference Finals between the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks, a massive line of Raptors fans were eagerly waiting to get into Jurassic Park, stretching from Bay Street, across Front towards University Avenue.
None of these people had tickets to actually get into Scotiabank Arena, but that didn’t matter. These were folks who wanted to be as close to a potentially historic moment as they possibly could, severe thunderstorm advisory in effect that day be damned.
Toronto was ahead in the series, leading Milwaukee 3-2 and looking to punch its first-ever trip to the Finals with a fourth straight win over the best team in the league during the regular season.
There was magic in the air that late April evening and everyone could feel it, including Mother Nature herself, who decided to hold off on the downpour during the game itself and give the tens of thousands of fans outside Scotiabank Arena a chance to stay dry and locked into the game.
Inside the arena, the build-up to the contest was electric. Around the concourse you could hear everyone from concession workers, to ushers, to security personnel, and fans talking themselves into a tizzy with one thing on their mind.
“The Raptors are going to the Finals tonight, man!”
That sentiment around the building would ultimately prove to be correct, but there was some nervousness to get out of the way first.
The Raptors actually got off to a poor start to the game, getting outscored by the Bucks 31-18 in the opening quarter, shooting only 31.6 per cent from the field in the frame and allowing the Bucks to shoot 57.1 per cent. Milwaukee ended up closing the period on a 10-0 run, sucking a lot of the electricity in the building out and leaving fans groaning and making nervous murmurs entering the second quarter.
In the second, the crowd got back into it thanks to Fred VanVleet heating up, going 3-for-4 from three-point range to help pull the Raptors within seven at the half.
By getting within striking distance, the Raptors were set up for one of their signature moments of the entire 2019 playoff run.
With 2:01 to play in the third quarter, Kawhi Leonard scored the fifth and sixth points of what was a 12-point quarter by crossing over Malcolm Brogdon, getting into the paint just past the free-throw line, pump-faking to get Pat Connaughton, who was shadowing behind him, to jump up, and then stepping through to get a one-handed shot up and in for an and-one.
This was, effectively, the beginning of the all-night party to come in Toronto.
That tough two Leonard scored kicked off a Bucks-killing 26-3 run that extended all the way midway through the fourth quarter, when Leonard crowned Giannis Antetokounmpo with the biggest dunk in Raptors history and nearly blew the roof off of Scotiabank Arena.
This massive slam gave the Raptors an eight-point advantage that would get trimmed down to as much as two, but nothing more. The Raptors were going to go the Finals.
There was no better indication of the joy of this moment than with 4.1 seconds left and Leonard at the line to ice the game and make it the official final of 100-94. Everyone in the building knew it was over and the Raptors really were going to get a shot at competing for a championship for the first time ever.
This includes Kyle Lowry, who couldn’t hold back his smile as he was pumping his fists while the crowd around him roared to deafening levels.
It was time to celebrate.