Celtics push Cavs to the brink

Boston's Jayson Tatum and Cleveland's Kevin Love reaching for the ball during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics won 96-83 and are a win away from the NBA Finals.
Boston's Jayson Tatum and Cleveland's Kevin Love reaching for the ball during Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics won 96-83 and are a win away from the NBA Finals.PHOTO: REUTERS

Jaded James may fail to make NBA Finals for 1st time in 8 years as Boston lead 3-2

BOSTON • The Boston Celtics were the last team to beat LeBron James in an Eastern Conference play-off series, when they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers in the semi-finals in May 2010.

Fast forward eight years and history could repeat itself after the Celtics triumphed 96-83 at the TD Garden on Wednesday to move within one win of reaching the National Basketball Association (NBA) Finals.

Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points to lead five Boston players in double figures as the Celtics took a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals.

Four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James, whose streak of playing in seven straight NBA Finals is in jeopardy of coming to an end, led Cleveland with 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.

But James looked at times as if he were feeling the effects of the heavy load he has carried for the Cavs in these play-offs, coughing up six of Cleveland's 15 turnovers, including four in the second half.

"I think everybody at this point is tired or worn down or whatever the case may be," James said.

  • 36.5%

    Boston's shooting percentage, a silver lining for the Cleveland defence.

Kevin Love, with 14 points, was the only other player to score in double figures for the Cavs, who host Game 6 today (tomorrow, Singapore time) trying to stay on track for a fourth straight trip to the Finals. Game 7, if needed, will be back in Boston on Sunday.

Although James is seeking an eighth consecutive trip to the title series, he said that streak would not be on his mind today.

"Not at all," he said. "It's just all about just win every game and it should put us in position to play for a championship.

"We look forward to having an opportunity to force a Game 7. It's up to us to see if we can come back here (to Boston) for one more."

The winner of the series will play either the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets for the NBA crown. The Western Conference rivals are locked at 2-2 in their series.

With James on the bench to open the fourth quarter, the Celtics pushed a 16-point lead to 21. A 9-0 Cavs run reduced the deficit to 12 points, but Cleveland came up empty on their next four attempts.

"Defensively we gave ourselves a chance," said James, noting that the Cavs held the Celtics to 36.5 per cent shooting.

"At one point we had two opportunities to cut it to single digits and missed some really good looks, two three-pointers. We couldn't make. And if you don't make, it's going to come back to bite you."

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue added: "Defensively, holding this (Boston) team to 36 per cent from the field was a good job. But we've got to be able to score the basketball. So now we've got to go home, win Game 6 and come back here for Game 7."

The Celtics improved to 10-0 at home this post-season, and Tatum said there is no reason they cannot wrap up the series today.

"We've got to be focused, composed and play with a lot of poise and we'll be fine," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2018, with the headline 'Celtics push Cavs to the brink'. Print Edition | Subscribe