If you transported yourself to almost any given moment in Raptors history, Saturday evening’s scene around the Bay Street arena would have been largely unfathomable. The late-May weather was stormy, the skies roiling and the rain teeming. But still the faithful snaked around the building draped in raincoats and garbage bags. Still they chanted “Let’s go Raptors” as though they were basking in the late-day sun.

Give Toronto’s sports fans credit for knowing a big moment when they see one. They don’t come around these parts often. Which is why Toronto’s 100-94 victory in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final — an epochal win that sent the Raptors to their first NBA final in their 24th season — will go down in the annals as a breakthrough worthy of witness and remembrance. The previous time one of Toronto’s big-three sports teams found itself in a position to advance to a championship series with a single victory, the year was 1993 and the spoiler of dreams was a transcendent star who went by the Great One.

Faced with the same kind of opportunity more than a quarter-century later, the Raptors wouldn’t be similarly derailed by the Greek Freak. This wasn’t just another game; it wasn’t just another win. This was the 100th playoff game in franchise history ending in a trail-blazing march over hallowed ground Canada’s only NBA team has never treaded before.

The Canadian team once defined by all-stars leaving town is suddenly waiting for the defending champion Golden State Warriors to arrive in its city. Game 1 of the best-of-seven series to decide the league championship goes Thursday at Scotiabank Arena.

“We’re not satisfied,” Kyle Lowry, the all-star point guard and longest-serving Raptor, told the crowd in an interview with Ernie Johnson after it was over. “This is one step in our end goal.”

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Even if one season can’t erase a franchise track record that’s often been defined by disappointment, Saturday night’s win went a long way toward overshadowing the many nights before it that ended in joy-killing thuds. So it was fitting that the club’s biggest victory happened in heroic fashion, the Raptors overcoming a 15-point deficit from late in the third quarter, the second-biggest playoff comeback in franchise history.

Who could have conjured such a buzz-inducing triumph from a franchise that has so often specialized in turmoil? You remember the litany of letdowns. Damon Stoudamire brought smiles to a fan base just happy to have a team, but it wasn’t long before he wanted out. Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter were Toronto’s first run-in with talents vast enough to hint at the potential for world domination, but neither achieved it here. Chris Bosh was never good enough to carry a team, but he was smart enough to realize his limitations and seek out two superior running mates in Miami. And you remember the many reasons the club gave Bosh to find another place to play.

The low moments, indeed, were many. There was Kobe Bryant dropping 81 points on a 27-win Raptors team in 2005-06. There were the red playoff-game T-shirts handed out to Raptor fans on a day the visiting Nets wore red; then led by Carter, the Nets won that game and that 2007 series. There was the doomed Jermaine O’Neal trade in 2008 and the ill-advised Hedo Turkoglu signing in 2009. There was the post-Bosh collapse — 22 wins in the season after he departed.

And even when things got better, even when DeMar DeRozan’s admirable rise and Dwane Casey’s franchise-changing reign brought a new respectability to a basketball town, the evolution had its clear limits. There was Lowry’s shot to advance to the second round in 2014 — blocked by Paul Pierce as time expired after Terrence Ross forgot the inbounds play. There was an ugly first-round sweep at the hands of the Wizards in 2015. And from there — well, from there emerged a perpetual bringer of Toronto gloom named LeBron James, who would knock the DeRozan-Lowry-Casey Raptors out of the post-season in three straight seasons, including last year’s slap in the face of a second-round sweep.

Give Raptors president Masai Ujiri credit for knowing a watershed moment when he’s living through one. Tired of these seasons ending in a joy-killing thud, the bold executive fired Casey and traded DeRozan in the deal that brought a true NBA alpha dog to the city.

“I don’t know how many more good things I can say about him — he’s just so good,” Nick Nurse, the Toronto coach, said of Kawhi Leonard.

“The best player in the league” is how Ujiri described him in the giddy moments after it was over.

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When Lowry was asked about the franchise’s star-crossed history and what had changed to make this moment possible, Lowry, sitting at a podium alongside Leonard, simply glimpsed in his teammate’s direction and laughed. As in: Duh. There’s your answer.

Sure, Lowry was his heart-and-soul self, and Marc Gasol helped, and Danny Green brought a championship ring, and Pascal Siakam did his best. And the Raptors probably don’t win Games 5 and 6 without the great shooting of Fred VanVleet, who went 4-for-5 from three-point range Saturday after going 7-for-9 the outing before. But Leonard’s presence has changed everything.

“I don’t care about being the best player,” Leonard said. “I want to be the best team.”

Leonard certainly was the chief reason why the throngs ventured into a rainstorm to watch Game 6 on the big screen in the square — Kawhi and the prospect of being in the vicinity of history. In this city, you grab your raincoat and embrace the shower to share in the buzz. These chances don’t come around every decade.

The man who wears No. 2 — who provided the iconic Game 7 buzzer-beater that set up the matchup with the Bucks — may or may not be here beyond this season. He’s both a highly coveted free agent and an enigma. But on Saturday he delivered the kind of tireless, desperate effort that suggested he was somehow fuelled by the collective disappointments of the Raptors and Leafs and Blue Jays combined. He certainly didn’t have anything to do with this city’s many sporting sins of the past — you can make the case he’s the best player who’s ever played here, no matter the sport. But Leonard played like he was trying to atone for them, scoring 27 points and pulling down 17 rebounds — including a massive offensive rebound with 3.9 seconds remaining in regulation that sealed it.

Toronto’s defence was just as dogged, holding the opponent to 41-per-cent shooting from the field, including 33 per cent after the end of the first quarter. Giannis Antetokounmpo, as valiantly as he competed, was frustrated again by Toronto’s strategy of walling off the paint with a sea of humanity, needing 18 shots to get his 21 points. The drenched throng in Jurassic Park exploded in ecstatic roars as the Raptors made stop after stop.

Saturday marked the 100th game of Toronto’s season. And when you added it up, considering this was their 10th game against the Bucks, that meant Toronto had played a full 10 per cent of its schedule against that team in green. The Bucks won three of four in what Leonard calls the “practice” season. The Raptors won four of six when it actually mattered — including four straight to close the series. Suddenly a fan base so accustomed to cringing in big moments could cue the euphoria, fire off the confetti cannons, revel in the moment — and get ready for the final.

“We’ve got great fans. They support us through good times and bad times,” Lowry said late into an unprecedented Saturday night. “And right now’s a great time.”

Dave Feschuk is a Toronto-based sports columnist. Follow him on Twitter: @dfeschuk