Celtics finally put away undermanned Cavaliers, advance to conference finals

It wasn't easy, but the Boston Celtics earned a trip to the conference finals for the third straight year on Wednesday. Now, they wait.

Jayson Tatum did a bit of everything to lead the @celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals ‼️

☘️ 25 PTS

☘️ 10 REB

☘️ 9 AST

☘️ 4 STL

☘️ 3 3PM

Boston makes their 3rd straight ECF appearance and awaits the winner of New York/Indiana. pic.twitter.com/PVUSOEKBut

— NBA (@NBA) May 16, 2024

Boston's star forward Jayson Tatum led the way, finishing an assist shy of a triple-double, scoring 25 points (9-of-16) with 10 rebounds and nine helpers in the Celtics' 113-98 series-clinching victory over an undermanned Cleveland Cavaliers squad. Meanwhile, center Al Horford rebounded from a six-point outing in Game 4, posting 22 points (8-of-15), including six three-pointers (6-of-13), with 15 rebounds and five assists.

The rest of the Celtics' starting lineup, guards Jrue Holiday, Derrick White and Jaylen Brown, were efficient yet unspectacular, finishing 16-of-35 for 42 points.

— NBA on TNT (@NBAonTNT) May 16, 2024

Boston won by 15 points, but the game was much closer than it seemed. With 10:59 left in the fourth quarter, the beaten-up Cavaliers were still fighting, trailing by only three (86-83). The Celtics ultimately pulled away down the stretch. Still, they struggled to do so after allowing the Cavaliers to shoot 48.1 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from beyond the arc while committing 12 turnovers.

Cleveland, already without several key players, including star guard Donovan Mitchell, saw guard Darius Garland go ice-cold in Game 5, finishing 4-of-17 from the field and 0-of-4 from three for only 11 points. Regardless, Evan Mobley nearly willed the Cavaliers to a remarkable victory. In what was perhaps his coming-out party, the young forward was a defensive standout on Wednesday while carrying the load on offense, finishing with a playoff career-high 33 points (15-of-24).

With Garland and others struggling, veteran Marcus Morris stepped up off the bench, scoring a season-high 25 points (10-of-13) with five three-pointers (5-of-6). However, the effort of Mobley and Morris simply wasn't enough to overcome such a steep hill to climb.

19 points and counting for EV4. @evanmobley | #LetEmKnow pic.twitter.com/MlHjAZB587

— Cleveland Cavaliers (@cavs) May 16, 2024

The Celtics didn't play their best on Wednesday and will certainly need a better effort in the Eastern Conference Finals, where they'll play either the New York Knicks or Indiana Pacers. While it's possible that they naturally played down to a Cavaliers team without center Jarrett Allen, guard Caris LeVert and Mitchell, it's not a good sign for a franchise looking to break a trend in the next round.

The Celtics have reached the conference finals for the sixth time in eight years. However, they've advanced to the NBA Finals only once over their previous seven trips, losing to the Golden State Warriors in 2022.

While their offensive hiccups aren't much of a concern, their inability to make consistent stops against a short-handed Cavaliers team might be a reason for pause. The Celtics will encounter even stiffer guard play regardless of who they face in the East finals. However, Tatum told TNT after Wednesday's game that they "had to be on the same page" moving forward but didn't seem concerned about the challenge ahead.

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