TORONTO — The importance of the Raptors' Game 6 was underlined Saturday night when Drake was in his seat during player introductions.
The rapper/Raptors global ambassador is notoriously late when he attends games during the regular season, normally taking his courtside perch well into the first quarter.
But for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final against the Milwaukee Bucks, with Toronto just one win away from its first-ever NBA Finals, the tattooed ball of muscle who serves as one of Drake's bodyguards was visible early in the walkway near the entrance the rapper uses to come courtside at Scotiabank Arena.
That meant Drake was on time.
Drake skipped that last glass of Cristal — or perhaps a shot of his own Virginia Black Decadent American Whiskey — to ensure he didn't miss possible franchise history. Wearing a cheeky black hoodie that read "Kawhi Me A River" on the back, he rode an emotional Raptors roller-coaster one more time.
Unlike Game 4, when he drew criticism from Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer and Bucks fans for his roving courtside antics that included a brief shoulder rub for Raptors coach Nick Nurse, Drake was on his best behaviour Saturday night.
He stuck to his area, albeit making like a Mexican jumping bean and there was some jawing. But this night, it was Budenholzer in the bad books — handed a technical foul for some apparent back-talk early in the third quarter.
Drake bounced up and down when the Raptors were introduced. And he pounded a fist when Milwaukee star Giannis Antetokounmpo missed his first free throw (he remained seated when the Greek Freak sank the second).
The hip-hop star ran the gamut of emotions. In the second quarter, with the Raptors trailing 38-26, the emotion consisted of sitting with his hand on his forehead.
He crouched as Fred VanVleet launched a three-point attempt, ready to launch if the ball dropped in the bucket. But it didn't, so lift-off was aborted.
VanVleet obliged later in the first half, sending Drake into orbit.
When Serge Ibaka dunked, Drake was jumping again, arms akimbo and fists pumping.
After a questionable call sent Antetokounmpo to the free-throw line, the Toronto rapper stood motionless behind a referee, his arms crossed in disapproval. And then he waggled his fingers as if putting a hex on the big Buck as he launched the ball.
At halftime, with Toronto trailing 53-40, he disappeared into the Scotiabank Arena bowels.
Old habits die hard, it appears. Drake — walking in between two bodyguards cut from the same scary cloth — took his seat with a beverage in hand some three minutes into the third quarter, although in his defence he was delayed en route by adoring fans and an usher waiting for a break in play.
A Marc Gasol three-pointer sent him skywards seconds later. A Kyle Lowry shot from distance also got him out of his seat. Yet another Lowry three-pointer had him double the degree of difficulty, a leap into the air with a leg-kick.
Another missed Antetokounmpo free throw had him clapping feverishly. And an Ibaka hook shot late in the third quarter earned Drake's male companion a brief shoulder rub.
After Toronto cut the deficit to 76-71 at the end of the third quarter, Drake hiked his pants for the 200th time, had a swig of his drink and parked a cheek on the nearby officials' table.
To avoid distractions, he put his phone on the table as the final quarter began. And when Ibaka dunked off a Lowry feed to tied it up at 78-78, the excitable entertainer started furiously flexing. Another Ibaka bucket had him dancing on the spot.
Drake didn't sit much in the final frame. A 26-3 Toronto run from the final minutes of the third quarter had the adrenalin surging. And a VanVleet three-pointer had him shaking a leg and hugging his buddy.
As the Raptors extended their lead, he seemed to throw some shade in the direction of Milwaukee bench. A Kawhi Leonard dunk over Antetokounmpo produced another hug and a 360-degree dance move.
Drake picked up his phone again.
The Bucks launched a comeback but it fell just short. Drake put a hand up in the dying seconds to quieten the crowd for final free throws by Pascal Siakam and Leonard, celebrating the three out of four that went in.
Toronto won 100-94 to advance to the NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. The global ambassador pumped fists at the Toronto bench and the celebrations began.
An NBA Finals baseball cap was soon on his head. He gave Milwaukee's George Hill a long hug, patted Nurse on the back and then embraced Toronto's Norm Powell. Soon he was swallowed up in the celebrating scrum of players and team officials on the court.
For Drake, God's Plan.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press