BOSTON — Jayson Tatum and the Celtics came up big Wednesday in Game 5 against the Cavaliers.
From starting Aron Baynes over Marcus Morris to match Cleveland’s front court of Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson to a first-half dust up between Morris and Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr., the Celtics came out looking to play big and it paid off in a 96-83 win over the Cavaliers. The Celtics lead the Eastern Finals, 3-2, and can advance to the NBA Finals for the first time in eight years with a win in Game 6 on Friday night in Cleveland.
Tatum, the Celtics’ 20-year-old superstar in the making, scored 24 points and added six rebounds, four assists and three steals while Al Horford chipped in with a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds. Tatum moved past Magic Johnson and Wilt Chamberlain for 4th place all-time among rookie playoff scorers. The Celtics held LeBron James to 26 points while Kevin Love was the only other Cleveland starter in double figures with 14.
The Celtics used another electric crowd inside TD Garden to improve their postseason home record to a perfect 10-0. In the final 90 seconds, the crowd started chanting “Celts in 6” to celebrate the great night for the hometown team. If the Celtics can’t close it out Friday night, they’ll have the home court behind them again in Game 7 of the Eastern Finals Sunday night at 8:30 at TD Garden. Former Celtic Kelly Olynyk watched the game from behind the Celtics bench.
Click here for a full box score of Wednesday’s Game 5.
To start the game, NBA All-Rookie first teamer Tatum was on fire on both ends of the court. He had nine points, two rebounds, two assists and two steals in the opening quarter. The Celtics rode red-hot shooting from beyond the arc and intense defense on Cleveland to a 32-19 lead after the first quarter.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 24, 2018
The Celtics looked in complete control and the Cavaliers, with Kevin Love in foul trouble, looked to be on the verge of getting blown out of the building.
The Celtics continued their run to open the second quarter, scoring the first four points and opening to a 36-19 lead. Then on a James-to-Nance alley oop, Marcus Morris came over to help defensively and nudged Nance to the floor. Morris said something to Nance, who responded by pushing Morris in the back. Terry Rozier came over and shoved Nance. There was a brief scrum around the players involved before replay produced technicals on Morris, Nance and Rozier.
Tempers flare in Boston ? pic.twitter.com/2RC37TRczg
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 24, 2018
Kyle Korver, who didn’t play the first quarter, hit a free throw to start a 9-0 Cavaliers run. That spurt was ended – appropriately enough – by a Morris three. The Cavaliers would cut the lead down to eight twice before Boston answered with another run.
Tatum’s three gave the Celtics a 44-31 lead with five minutes left in the second quarter. Boston would take a 53-42 lead to the break. James and Love combined for 26 points on 11-of-19 shooting. The rest of the team was a woeful 4-for-17 and just 16 points.
The Celtics, on the other hand, were balanced as usual. Tatum had 12 points. Morris scored 9 off the bench while Horford and Brown had eight each, Smart had 7 points while Baynes added six.
The Tatum show continued in the third quarter. His three with 8:22 left in the period restored Boston’s lead to 13 at 59-46. A LeBron bad pass resulted in his foul on Jaylen Brown, who hit a pair of free throws for a 61-46 Celtics lead with eight minutes left. Tatum’s fallaway as the shot clock expired put Boston up, 63-48, with 7:40 left.
The Cavaliers were in the midst of another spurt that cut the lead down to 10, with possession and a chance to get within single digits. That’s when Morris drove the basket for a reverse layup, and fell to the ground holding his face after the basket. The Cavs couldn’t get a basket as the Celtics had only four defenders. J.R. Smith missed a three and that led to a Celtics possession the other way and a Marcus Smart three that put Boston up, 68-53.
Marcus ➡️ Marcus. No ? required. pic.twitter.com/PI9uhDIwIl
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 24, 2018
Each team was sloppy for the final three minutes of the third but it was the Celtics who actually generated some offense, building their lead to 76-60 heading into the fourth.
As was the case in Game 4 for Cleveland, every time the Cavs made a run, the Celtics had an answer. Cleveland’s final spurt came after Jaylen Brown’s two free throws put Boston up, 83-62, with 10:14 left. The Cavs scored the next nine points but missed open looks on three straight possessions that could’ve made the game much tighter. Horford caught an alley-oop pass from Rozier with 5:50 left and dunked it to end the run and put Boston up, 85-71.
Horford’s three with 3:51 sealed the game, putting Boston ahead, 90-73.