Celtics one win from NBA Finals
Win and you force a Game 7.
Lose and you’re headed for vacation.
Those are the options for the Cavaliers following Boston’s 96-83 win in Game 5, the Celtics taking a 3-2 series lead with a chance to clinch the series and advance to the NBA Finals on Saturday in Cleveland.
As has been the case for the entire series, the home team dominated from start to finish.
Boston opened up a 32-19 lead after one quarter and that was about as close as Cleveland got as the home side kept the reigning conference champions at bay despite shooting just 36.5 percent from the field.
Despite a poor shooting night, Boston’s defence keyed the win as they held off LeBron and the Cavaliers whenever it looked as if they’d make a run.
Midway through the last quarter, the Cavs had a chance to cut the deficit to single digits but missed three consecutive three-pointers and a driving layup, ending in a fast break alley-oop from Al Horford that all but sealed the Celtics’ win.
Jayson Tatum once again paced Boston with 24 points and seven rebounds, adding to his outstanding postseason performance in just his first season in the NBA.
Al Horford chipped in with 15 points and pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds, but his most important play came with less than four minutes to go.
He hit a three at the top of perimeter that stretched the Celtics lead to 17 and put the game to bed.
LeBron James scored a game-high 26 points but was visibly tired at different moments in the game.
The Cavaliers leader started seven-of-11 from the field but finished shooting 11-of-20 and had six turnovers, an unusually high number of turnovers for James who prides himself on a high assist to turnover ratio (five assists in Game 5).
Kevin Love started strongly with 10 points in the first quarter but was otherwise quiet for the rest of the game, finishing with just 14.
James and Love were the only two Cavs players to finish in double digit scoring, a stat that will need to change particularly if James’ heavy load continues to take a toll.
Game 6 could be James’ last as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers as he is a free agent after the season ends. He will need to be at his absolute best and have help from his teammates if the Cavs are to head back to Boston for a Game 7 and extend James’ consecutive NBA Finals appearances to eight.
The Celtics will need to be better at Cleveland than they were in Games 3 and 4 if they want to close out the series and advance to an unlikely NBA Finals spot.