BOSTON - Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points and grabbed seven rebounds as the Boston Celtics defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 96-83 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference finals.
Jaylen Brown added 17 points, Al Horford had 15 points and 12 boards and both Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart scored 13 for Boston. The Celtics have earned all three of their wins this series at home, where they are 10-0 in the playoffs.
“When we’re sometimes on the road, it’s just different in the playoffs,” Horford said. “You get on the road and you’re just out there against everybody else. Here, I just think that our guys just feel comfortable and good. It’s a credit to the atmosphere that’s here. It’s just a lot of fun to play in right now.”
LeBron James finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for Cleveland, though he committed six turnovers. Kevin Love had 14 points and seven boards for the Cavaliers, who had evened the series with a 111-102 win in Game 4 on Monday.
James and Love were the only two Cleveland players to score in double figures.
“Defensively, holding this (Boston) team to 36 percent (shooting) from the field was a good job,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “We had a lot of mistakes that we could have cleaned up, but overall, they scored 96 points and shoot 36 percent. We’ve got to be able to score the basketball.”
Game 5 winners in best-of-seven playoff series that were tied 2-2 have won the series 83.1 percent of the time (167-34).
Game 6 is Friday night in Cleveland. Game 7, if necessary, would be Sunday in Boston.
“I look forward to seeing us respond on Friday night,” James said. “I know how well we’ve played at home in this postseason. That’s the only thing I can worry about right now. I’m not worried about a Game 7. You have to worry about Game 6. You ain’t put yourself in that moment until you take care of the present.”
Boston is one win away from its first NBA Finals appearance since 2010, when it lost to the rival Los Angeles Lakers in seven games. Cleveland has been in three consecutive Finals while James has gone to seven in a row between the Cavs and Miami Heat.
Brown lauded the postseason improvement of Tatum, saying, “The sky’s the limit. He’s gonna continue to get better. He’s my workout partner. I expect it in myself, and I expect it in him. ...
“Everybody doesn’t hit the rookie wall. I don’t think Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell hit one either. I don’t think Jayson Tatum did. If you come into the league thinking you’re gonna hit one, you kind of ... limit yourself. J.T., ain’t no limit for that. He just comes in and works. He has the right people around him. Al. The right vets around him. Showing us the right way to win.”
Down 76-60 entering the fourth quarter, Cleveland fell behind by 20 early in the period before pulling within 85-73 on James’ layup with 4:43 to play. Boston’s Terry Rozier hit a pull-up jumper 17 seconds later, and Horford’s 3-pointer with 3:53 left put Boston ahead 90-73.
The Cavs waived the white flag when James checked out with 3:11 remaining.
Lue said he thought James looked tired, but the coach added, “No concerns. You’ve got to be ready to play now. No concerns.”
Boston was up 53-42 at halftime.
Tensions flared early in the second quarter when Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. shoved Morris under the basket. Nance took exception to Morris standing over him after falling while battling for a loose ball.
Technical fouls were assessed to Morris, Nance and Rozier, who shoved Nance in retaliation as the teams scuffled. Cleveland trailed 36-19 at the time but used a 12-3 run to pull within eight with 8:40 left until halftime.
The Celtics led 32-19 after one quarter.
“I’ve never played in a series where home court seemed to matter so much,” Cavs swingman Kyle Korver said. “I mean, we’ve just played really bad here in Boston. They probably feel the same way about how they played in Cleveland. But thank God we’re going home next. Hopefully we’ll play better and force a Game 7, then you never know what can happen.”
—Gethin Coolbaugh, Field Level Media