MILWAUKEE >> The crowd on the road was rowdy. The 25-point lead was gone. The Toronto Raptors were frazzled, in danger of losing a Game 6 in the playoffs again.
This time, Toronto found a way to win.
DeMar DeRozan scored 32 points, Cory Joseph had five points in a 9-0 run in the final 2 minutes to answer a furious rally by the Milwaukee Bucks, and the Raptors held on for a 92-89 victory tonight to take their first-round playoff series in six games.
The Raptors move on to face the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals, a series that starts Monday.
“We lost our composure a little bit,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Again, we found a way to (hold on). That’s what good teams do.”
Toronto snapped a five-game losing streak in Game 6s, earning a couple extra days off to rest for the Cavaliers. The Raptors also need to work on finishing off opponents in the second half.
Joseph’s 3 with 1:27 left put Toronto up for good, 85-82. Two foul shots from Joseph with 33.9 seconds extended the lead to seven.
The Raptors could finally breathe easy after DeRozan went 2 of 2 from the foul line with 3.1 seconds to play for a three-point lead. Tony Snell’s inbounds pass on the ensuing possession was intercepted by DeRozan.
“We stayed calm. We knew they weren’t going to give up,” DeRozan said.
Jason Terry’s 3 with 3:06 left had given the Bucks an 80-78 lead, completing an unlikely comeback from the 25-point deficit with 5:16 left in the third quarter. The Raptors looked as if they were on cruise control after DeMarre Carroll’s 3 gave them the 71-46 advantage.
Giannis Antetokounmpo spearheaded the second-half rally for Milwaukee. He had 34 points.
But the Bucks finished one comeback short.
A 9-of-18 showing from the foul line in the fourth quarter hurt, too.
“We always talk about the little things, and when we look at this it comes down to just free throws,” coach Jason Kidd said. “We don’t need to overanalyze it. We got to the stripe and we just couldn’t capitalize on that.”
Khris Middleton added 19 points for the Bucks after missing practice time this week because of illness.
Raptors: Toronto last won a Game 6 in 2001 after defeating Philadelphia in a second-round series. … Entering today, Toronto was 0-4 all-time in Game 6s on the road, and 0-3 in Casey’s six-year tenure with the team. That stretch started in 2014, when the Raptors lost a first-round series to the Brooklyn Nets, who were then coached by Kidd. … DeRozan was 7 of 13 for a game-high 16 points in the first half. … The Raptors lost three of four games to Cleveland in the regular season.
Bucks: Middleton made the only 3 of the first half for Milwaukee, which missed its eight other shots from behind the arc. The Raptors outscored the Bucks 28-22 in the paint, negating Milwaukee’s strength. … The franchise hasn’t won a playoff series since advancing to the Eastern Conference finals in 2001.
The furious effort appeared to sap the energy of the young Bucks. Even Antetokounmpo, a gym rat, looked tired with his hands on hips as he caught his breath during fourth-quarter breaks. He played 47 minutes.
Antetokounmpo finished 13 of 23 from the field and 2 of 6 in the fourth.
A frenetic, towel-waving crowd helped fuel the Bucks.
“You know you’re going to be tired, it’s the playoffs. I just was thinking in my mind ‘Do whatever it takes,’” the All-Star said. “I told my teammates to just fight through it. It was not just me. Everybody was tired.”
Nearly everything was going Toronto’s way from late in the first quarter to midway through the third quarter.
Then the Raptors lost focus. They looked like the team that had the embarrassing 27-point loss in Game 3.
“I think we gave up the lead by not passing the ball, not moving the ball as much,” guard Kyle Lowry said. “But you live and you learn. … On to the next one and we’re prepared for the next one.”
Lowry finished with 13 points.
The Raptors will face Cleveland a year after losing to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals in six games.
“Winning in Cleveland is difficult. We know what we’re facing,” Casey said. “Hopefully we’ve got a couple days now to review what they’re doing.”