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Celtics Overcome Cavs, Advance to Eastern Conference Finals

Despite being heavily favored, the Boston Celtics faced an unexpectedly tough challenge from the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Wednesday night. Missing three of their top six players, including star guard Donovan Mitchell, Cleveland kept the game close into the fourth quarter before Boston ultimately secured a 113-98 victory. This win propels the Celtics to their third consecutive Eastern Conference finals and their sixth appearance in the past eight years.

Tatum and Horford Lead the Way

Jayson Tatum was instrumental in the victory, contributing 25 points, 10 rebounds, and 9 assists. Al Horford, the team’s oldest player, also delivered a motivational performance, adding 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 5 assists. Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla acknowledged the high stakes of close-out games, saying, “It’s a level of stress, anxiety, desperation; it takes what it takes. You got to play 48 — hopefully, maybe more at times. And at the end of the day, you just got to keep going … continue to chip away at the things you can control.”

The Road to the Finals

Boston now awaits the winner of the other Eastern Conference semifinal between the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers. The Knicks lead 3-2, with Game 6 set for Friday in Indianapolis. The Eastern Conference finals will begin at TD Garden either Sunday afternoon or Tuesday night.

Overcoming First-Half Struggles

Despite Cleveland’s injury-depleted roster, they led for much of the first half, thanks to a strong performance from former Celtic Marcus Morris Sr., who scored 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting. Boston managed to take a 58-52 lead into halftime, but their inconsistent home court performance in recent playoffs remained a concern. Since the start of the 2022 playoffs, Boston has gone 14-14 at TD Garden, the most games played without a winning record at home over three postseasons in NBA history.

Horford’s Heroics

Al Horford’s energy and determination were crucial in turning the game around for the Celtics. After struggling with his three-point shooting in the first four games of the series, Horford hit six threes in Game 5 and made several key hustle plays. “It feels great because we won,” Horford said. “That’s the only satisfaction I get out of it. But I’m happy because I was able to help the team win this game. We have to give Cleveland credit. They were depleted and they just did not quit. They really pushed us to the brink.”

Cleveland’s Resilience

Cleveland’s resilience was evident, particularly in the performance of third-year big man Evan Mobley, who scored 33 points on 15-for-24 shooting. Marcus Morris Sr. added 25 points on 10-for-13 shooting, including 5-for-6 from three-point range. However, the Celtics’ defensive efforts, particularly against Cavaliers guard Darius Garland, who was held to 11 points on 4-for-17 shooting, ultimately made the difference. Horford’s defensive presence was pivotal, as he repeatedly thwarted Garland’s scoring attempts in the fourth quarter.

Looking Ahead

Boston’s talent and depth eventually wore down the Cavaliers, allowing the Celtics to pull away in the final moments. The TD Garden crowd erupted in applause as Horford was subbed out late in the game, signaling another successful trip to the conference finals for Boston. Reflecting on the game, Horford emphasized the importance of individual defensive efforts, saying, “Joe talked about us taking the challenge defensively, individually, and this was one of those nights that we had to — as a man, we had to look in the mirror and step up and try to do our best.”

As the Celtics advance, their focus shifts to the upcoming Eastern Conference finals, where they will seek to continue their journey toward an NBA championship.

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