Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.

Larry Nance Jr., Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier exchange shoves after whistle (video)

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Marcus Morris fouled Larry Nance Jr. in Celtics-Cavaliers Game 5 tonight. Nance didn’t like that, got up and shoved Morris. Morris and Terry Rozier didn’t like that, and both shoved Morris.

All three received a technical foul, which seems fair.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.

Tyronn Lue on Celtics’ physicality: ‘They’re gooning the game up’

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Cleveland has a lot of issues. They’ve had them all season, it’s just that neither the Pacers (who cam close) or the Raptors (who didn’t) couldn’t exploit them well enough.

Boston can, and they are up 2-0 on the Cavaliers after Tuesday’s win as the series heads back to Cleveland.

Among the areas Boston is beating Cleveland is physicality — the Celtics are bringing it and not all the Cavaliers are giving it back. And J.R. Smith‘s deserved flagrant for shoving Al Horford in the air isn’t how you do it. Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue talked about it after the game.

“We’ve got to be tougher,” Lue said in his press conference. “I think they’re playing tougher than we are. We see that. They’re being physical. They’re gooning the game up, and we’ve got to do the same thing. We’ve got to be tougher, mentally and physically.”

The gooning phrase rubbed some fans the wrong way, as if Brad Stevens were sending out the Hanson brothers to crack some skulls. To me it reads as if Lue realizes just putting in Tristan Thompson wasn’t enough, he needs to do more.

Either way, the Celtics shrugged it off in a “welcome to playoff basketball” kind of way. As they should. Here is what Marcus Morris said, via ESPN.

“Gooning? That’s a good word,” Morris said. “S—, we’re doing what it takes. Whatever it takes, every player, one to 15, whatever it takes, that’s what we’re doing. You call it what you want to call it. We’re just trying to get the win.”

They are getting the wins.

Boston is in control of the series, but with it heading home where the Cavaliers have played much better — and the Celtics have struggled some on the road in the playoffs — this series is not over. However, if the Cavaliers don’t come up with some answers on how to be more physical and how to slow the Celtics’ offense down, it will be over eventually, and it’s the Cavaliers who will be headed to Cabo.

Celtics beat LeBron James in Game 2 by allowing The King a triple-double

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After Game 1 between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics, the question was whether the team-first strategy of the Celtics could withstand the LeBron onslaught.

Now, we have our answer.

In Game 2 on Tuesday night, Boston showed they were the stronger team yet again by following a strict gameplan: switch on LeBron and do the best you can, then rotate out on Cleveland’s shooters to neutralize the rest of the Cavaliers roster. Brad Stevens even said as much during an interview during the broadcast, so it wasn’t a surprise when that appeared to be Boston’s approach.

It worked like a charm.

LeBron was magnificent in the first half, scoring 25 points and accounting for 15 shots compared to 18 for the rest of Cleveland’s starters. Although a knock to the face put him back in the locker room with a neck strain for a few moments, it was clear that James was on a warpath from the start. The only problem was that Boston wasn’t giving way, and the Cavaliers took just a 55-48 lead into the half.

And yet, it was the Celtics and their steady approach that turned the tide during the final two quarters.

Terry Rozier went off, Marcus Smart out-hustled everyone on the floor, and Marcus Morris came up big as Boston outscored Cleveland, 36-22, in the third quarter. That allowed for a swing not only on the scoreboard, but in momentum. LeBron, perhaps slowed by his neck getting dinged up or just from carrying the Cavaliers franchise for a decade, seemed off the rest of the game. His fadeaways clanged off the side of the iron, and his 3-point attempts started coming up short.

Things got a little heated late in the game as JR Smith underhandedly pushed Al Horford in the back while he was airborne, leading to a Flagrant 1 for Smith. Smart, who rushed to the aid of his teammate, earned a technical along with Smith for some pushing after the play.

Yet no amount of bad blood could spoil Boston’s gameplan, even with James posting another impressive stat line. The Celtics defense poured it on, clamping down even harder in the fourth quarter and allowing just 17 points.

James would finish the game with a triple-double of 42 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds. Kevin Love added 22 points and 15 rebounds, but only Kyle Korver scored in double figures for the Cavaliers.

For Boston it was another team effort, with Jaylen Brown leading the way with 23 points, seven rebounds, and three assists. Horford posted a double-double of 15 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. All five Celtics starters scored in double figures.

Game 3 is in Cleveland on Saturday. LeBron will have some time to think about what the Cavaliers can do to get back in this series. Theres not much else The King can enact himself. He needs a better tactical approach by Ty Lue and execution from his supporting cast.

Meanwhile, the Celtics let James go nuts and still won. Now, Boston has a 2-0 series lead heading back to Ohio.