that follow-back request, man.
Boston Celtics to a 96-83 win over LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 at on Wednesday. All-Star center Al Horford added 15 points with 12 rebounds, muscling his way through the defense of Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love to get to the basket and delivering the dagger on a pick-and-pop 3-pointer from the top of the key that put Boston up by 17 with 3:53 to go.
Terry Rozier, who missed 12 straight shots at one point and finished 3-for-15 for his eight points, but who kept helping on the glass and running the team without forcing things, racking up six rebounds, six assists and three steals with one turnover in 34 minutes.
Marcus Morris (13 points, six rebounds, more solid defense on LeBron) and Marcus Smart (13 points, a found money 3-for-6 from 3-point land, four rebounds, four assists) gave Boston precisely the second-unit punch they largely lacked in Cleveland, helping get the Celtics — operating without All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, relying so heavily on so much young talent — within one win of the NBA Finals.
Playing with confidence and aggression in front of the home crowd at TD Garden, Tatum torched J.R. Smith and the rest of Cleveland’s perimeter defenders time and again. He pulled up in rhythm from behind the 3-point line, used his quickness and handle to get to the rim and to the foul line, and deployed his length to make his presence felt on the defensive end and help the Celtics — fresh off two dire performances in Cleveland in Games 3 and 4 — limit the Cavs to 41.9 percent shooting and a 9-for-34 mark from 3-point range, and put LeBron on the brink of elimination for the second time this postseason:
Celtics fans chant “Celts in 6” in the Garden pic.twitter.com/GF7nqGZy9r
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) May 24, 2018
LeBron went for 45-8-7 to turn back the Indiana Pacers. If he’s going to produce the same sort of effort to stave off elimination in Friday’s Game 6, he’ll have to dig deeper than he seemed capable of on Wednesday.
James led the way for Cleveland, scoring a team-high 26 points on 11-for-22 shooting with 10 rebounds, five assists and a steal in 39 minutes. But he also committed six more turnovers — that’s 29 in five games in this series — and at multiple points looked flat-out gassed. With James unable of seizing control of the game and bending it to its will the way he did in the Cavs’ series-leveling wins at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs needed someone else to step into the void and create … and, outside of a solid start by Kevin Love (who’d finish with 14 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block in 31 minutes), nobody else did … and for that, coach Tyronn Lue will wear some goat horns after this one.
Aron Baynes. The additional size changed the matchups, forcing Thompson to deal with the burlier Baynes on the offensive end and allowing Stevens to deploy another big to help bail out point guard Terry Rozier whenever LeBron tried to orchestrate switches to terrorize him, as he did in Game 4.
The move paid off, as Baynes played well, contributing six points with seven rebounds and three blocks in 29 minutes while largely neutralizing Thompson (just one points and six rebounds, only one on the offensive glass, in 26 minutes). And yet, with Thompson ineffective and Cleveland struggling to score, Lue never tried to shift the terms of engagement south by running out the Love-at-center lineups that torched the Toronto Raptors in Round 2, preferring instead to stay big with either Thompson or Larry Nance Jr. for the bulk of the contest.
With the Cavs offense wilting and the Celtics building a double-digit lead late in the first quarter, many observers began to wonder: where was Kyle Korver? The 37-year-old marksman has been one of Cleveland’s three best players in this series, averaging 11 points in 22.5 minutes per game through Game 4 while shooting a blistering 57.7 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from the 3-point line, often sparking the Cavs’ attack during the brief stretches when LeBron sat down. And yet, the entire first quarter passed without Korver playing; he played only eight minutes in the first half; he saw just two minutes of tick in the third quarter, as the Celtics’ lead ballooned to 17.
Was he hurt? Well, no: according to Lue, the issue was that Stevens had taken away his safe defensive hiding spot by tightening his rotation and parking second-round pick Semi Ojeleye on the bench.
Ty Lue says the absence of Semi Ojeleye tonight messed up the playing time for his matchup, Kyle Korver. pic.twitter.com/vLvIf7xFjf
— Def Pen Hoops (@DefPenHoops) May 24, 2018
Thrown for a loop or no, a punchless Cavs offense seemed to beg for the threat of Korver’s shot-making to open up more driving lanes or potentially force Boston’s on-a-string defense to snap in rotation, creating chances for others to get cleaner looks. But Lue never quite got his rotation back in line, as Korver would finish with just seven points on 2-for-6 shooting in 18 1/2 minutes of floor time, and Cleveland would muster just 83 points in a pivotal Game 5.
Dan Devine is a writer and editor for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter!
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