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Raptors have reason to believe they can go to places they've never been

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MILWAUKEE – Tied 2-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, heading back to a hostile environment with a chance to seize the advantage, a chance to reach new heights?

The Toronto Raptors have been here before. Not these Toronto Raptors. Not the Kawhi Leonard-era Raptors. Not Nick Nurse’s club. But it was only three years ago that a team managed by Raptors president Masai Ujiri and led by Kyle Lowry was balanced on this edge, at this stage.

We know what happened then: The Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James put their foot on the gas. A message-sending 38-point blowout win in Game 5 in Cleveland followed by a business-like 26-point close out win back in Toronto in Game 6. Season over; no Finals for you.

That was when James gave Raptors Nation a collective head rub, a ‘nice try, good effort’ as Raptors fans that refused to leave the building kept the chanting going long after it was all lost.

Now? As the Raptors return to Milwaukee for Game 5 of their best-of-seven series against the Bucks Thursday night it feels different. Forget squeezing through an open window, if the Kawhi Leonard-era Raptors are going to break through and advance the franchise and the city to the NBA Finals for the first time they need to smash through the front door.

Get Game 5 in front of a rabid home crowd in Milwaukee and then bring it home to Scotiabank Arena and finish the job Saturday night.

Sound like a plan?

Of course the Raptors would sign off on any combination that ends with them progressing out of the East to the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

For the moment, they have the Bucks reeling. The Raptors have managed to contain Milwaukee’s emerging Superman and presumptive NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo while knocking the Bucks back both with Leonard throwing bombs in double-overtime in Game 3 and then — with Leonard clearly ailing in Game 4 — forcing them into a corner with a flurry of jabs from Toronto’s previously under-performing bench.

Later the Bucks — having cruised through their first 11 playoff starts and the entire regular season without having a glove laid on........

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