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A look at Raptors' historic journey from outsiders to title contenders

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TORONTO – Before we look ahead — and there’s an inherent risk at looking too far ahead — it’s always worth looking back.

First, though, this is where we are:

On Saturday night in front of the 233rd-straight sellout crowd at Scotiabank Arena in what will almost certainly be the largest television audience to ever watch a basketball game in Canada, the Toronto Raptors will host the Milwaukee Bucks with a chance to earn a trip to the NBA Finals for the first time ever.

Nothing is guaranteed and, given the Raptors’ history, it’s probably wise to only let hopes get so high.

The Bucks are an elite team with an emerging superstar in Giannis Antetokounmpo and tremendous roster depth. They are the No. 1 seed in the league, were the pre-series favourite to win the Eastern Conference Finals and, were it not for Toronto’s refusal to die in double-overtime Game 3 to avoid falling behind 3-0 in the series, the Bucks would likely be trying to close out the Raptors if they hadn’t already.

But the Raptors somehow managed to claw their way out of a shallow grave, win a Game 4 despite a momentarily diminished Kawhi Leonard and then were elevated by yet another win in an incredible line of wondrous playoff performances by Leonard as they stole Game 5 in Milwaukee.

The Bucks hadn’t lost three straight games all season before Thursday, and if Toronto can make it four consecutive wins they can move on to the NBA’s most hallowed stage.

Worst case? They lose and get to try their luck in Game 7 in Milwaukee. Generations of Raptors fans could only dream of such a chance.

So, a refresher for those who have only known the Raptors over the last six years — the era of plentitude — when playoff appearances have become routine, 50-win seasons the norm and the primary disappointment was your all-stars weren’t able to beat LeBron James and his all-stars in the playoffs.

For most of their existence the Raptors were........

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