One more win is all that stands between the Boston Celtics and the NBA Finals.
A barrage of 3s, a nearly-perfect showing from the free throw line and a committed effort on the defensive side of the floor lifted the Celtics over the Cleveland Cavaliers, 96-83, in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Finals series to take a 3-2 series lead.
As a team, the Celtics somehow managed to shoot just 31 for 85 from the floor – 36.5 percent, or a lower total than either of their showings in Cleveland during the series.
But thanks in large part to rookie superstar Jayson Tatum, who led Boston with 24 points, it didn’t matter a lick. The 83 points given up by Boston were the fewest over the course of the postseason.
Tatum burst out of the gate with 9 points in the first quarter alone, also grabbing two rebounds, recording two steals and dishing out two assists in the first 12 minutes. His 3-pointer gave the Celtics the lead for good at 14-12, part of a 23-7 run to close the quarter out for Boston. The 32 points the team had in the first quarter were more than they had in seven of eight quarters during Games 3 and 4 in Cleveland.
Tatum was one of five Celtics to connect from beyond the arc in the first half alone – six over the course of the game – with Marcus Morris connecting on all three of his shots from deep in the first half.
Conversely, LeBron James had almost no help on offense. He and Kevin Love shot 11 for 19 from the floor together in the first half, while the rest of their Cleveland castmates shot 4 for 17.
But even as Boston grew an 11-point halftime advantage into a lead as large as 21 over the course, neither James nor Love were able to seriously keep the Cavaliers afloat. James finished with 26 points and Love finished with 14, but no other Cleveland player reached double figures.
Al Horford recovered from taking only four shots total in Game 4 to chip in 15 points and 12 rebounds for a double-double, while Jaylen Brown overcame a slow start to finish with 17 points.
Morris, who was involved in a fracas with Cleveland’s Larry Nance in the first half that resulted in each player getting a technical foul – as well as Terry Rozier III – had 13 points off the bench. The Cavaliers had a 9-0 run after the scrap, caused when Morris blocked a pass intended for Nance that caused Nance to fall to the floor.
Morris snapped Cleveland’s run with a 3-pointer, a recurring theme throughout the night: whenever the Cavaliers got even a smidgen of hope, a different Celtic was there to snuff it out.
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Marcus Smart also had 13 points off the bench for Boston – on an economical 5 for 9 shooting, including 3 for 6 from deep.
The Celtics are now 10-0 at home this postseason, including 3-0 in their series vs. the Cavaliers. Game 6 is on Friday night back in Cleveland, but should the trends of the series continue, Game 7 would be in Boston on Sunday night.