Wrap-Up — Anyone who says home court advantage in the Playoffs is overrated hasn’t watched a minute of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals.
The Cavaliers squad that got after Boston in the previous two games at The Q was not present for most of Game 5 at TD Garden, as the Celtics jumped on the Wine & Gold midway through the first quarter and kept them at arm’s length for the rest of the night – holding on for the 96-83 victory and putting Cleveland in a win-or-go-home scenario on Friday night.
Making matters worse on Wednesday night was the fact that Boston gave the Cavs plenty of chances to steal the game. The Celtics shot just 37 percent from the floor, missing several point-blank attempts once again, and committed 10 turnovers. But Cleveland simply couldn’t capitalize when it counted.
The collective effort that highlighted the two games in Cleveland was also lacking in Game 5. Only two Cavaliers – LeBron James and Kevin Love – notched double-figure scoring (compared to five different Celtics). The All-Star duo combined for 18 of Cleveland’s 19 points in the opening period, and that was the case for much of the next three quarters.
The Wine & Gold’s biggest lead of the night was three points – taking a 12-9 edge as Tristan Thompson split a pair of free throws. From there, it was all Celtics as they took an 11-point advantage into the halftime locker room and led by double-figures for nearly the entire second half.
The closest Cleveland got in the second stanza was nine points, and that moment came within the first 75 seconds of the third quarter.
While the Cavaliers were good defensively, they weren’t very sharp on the offensive end.
Aside from featuring just two players in double-figures, Cleveland only connected on nine triples on 23 attempts and didn’t score more than 23 points in any of the four quarters. LeBron finished with more turnovers (6) than assists (5), Love was a -23 in 30 minutes of action and Cleveland’s remaining three starters – George Hill, JR Smith and Tristan Thompson – combined for exactly 10 points.
”I thought tonight we got a lot of open shots that we didn’t capitalize on,” lamented Coach Lue. “I thought we had a chance to get some easy baskets in transition that we didn’t capitalize on. We turned the basketball over, and they were able to get out and get something after we turned it over. I didn’t think we played well tonight at all.”
Coming off his 44-point performance in Game 4, LeBron didn’t look like himself on Wednesday. He still managed to lead both teams with 26 points and the Cavs with 10 boards, but seemed to be playing uphill all night. The four-time MVP went 11-for-22 from the floor, including 1-of-6 from long-distance, adding five assists and a steal.
Love was outstanding in the first quarter – notching 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting – but he added just four more points the rest of the way, finishing 6-of-13 from the field, including 2-of-7 from three-point range. Love, one of two Cavs starters who didn’t attempt a free throw on the night, added seven boards, two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.
As they had in the first two games of the series, Cleveland’s starting backcourt struggled mightily in Game 5 – combining for nine points on 2-of-11 shooting. Tristan Thompson finished with a single point to go with six rebounds.
Brad Stevens made a lineup change heading into Wednesday night, moving rugged big man Aron Baynes into the starting lineup – and it paid off. Al Horford moved to the 4 and doubled-up with 15 points and a game-high 12 boards.
”We knew they were going to make adjustments,” said Tristan Thompson. “We had a feeling they were going to start Baynes. Obviously, that’s another big for them which kind of changes their style of offense and defense. Our energy just wasn’t there tonight.”
Impressive Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum led Boston with 24 points on 7-for-15 shooting, adding seven boards and a game-high four steals. Jaylen Brown added 17 points, but Boston’s backcourt was almost as cold as Cleveland’s – they just took more shots, with Brown and Terry Rozier combining to shoot just 7-for-30 from the floor.
While Boston didn’t shoot well overall, they did can 13 three-pointers and were 21-of-23 from the stripe. On the night, the Celtics outdid Cleveland on the break, 18-2, and in second-chance scoring, 15-5.
Turning Point — For a moment, it looked like the turning point would be a rhubarb that erupted after Marcus Morris screamed in Larry Nance Jr.’s face after a foul early in the second quarter. Nance was having none of it and shoved Morris, with each receiving a technical.
Following the flare-up, Cleveland went on a 12-3 run to get to within eight points – its closest margin since the game’s opening moments. But Boston countered with a quick 8-2 run that put the Cavaliers down two touchdowns with just over four minutes to play before half.
LeBron James scored two quick buckets to start the second half and midway through the period the Cavaliers got to within 10, but the Celtics answered each run – taking a 16-point edge into the fourth quarter and not allowing Cleveland to get closer than a dozen the rest of the way.
By the Numbers – 72 … Playoff games that Tristan Thompson has now played as a Cavalier – moving him past Zydrunas Ilgauskas and Anderson Varejao and into 3rd place on the franchise’s all-time list.
Quotable – LeBron James, on his squad coming home for Game 6 …
”I think going back home, we have a comfort level. A lot of our guys have a comfort level of being back home and playing off the fans and playing off our crowd, playing off that court, being more comfortable being back home for Game 6. 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 for one more.”
Up Next — After falling on Wednesday night in Beantown, the Cavaliers come home for what could be a close-out contest as the Eastern Conference Finals return to Cleveland for Game 6 on Friday night at The Q. If the Wine & Gold can hold serve at home, they’ll force a Game 7 on Sunday evening in Boston.