Thursday, May 16, 2024

Celtics 113, Cavaliers 98: Al Horford powers C's to Eastern Conference Finals [BOS wins series, 4-1]

The Celtics clinched their sixth Eastern Conference Finals appearance in the past seven years with a 113-98 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers to win their best-of-7 series 4-1 Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Al Horford came alive for Boston in this one, as he dropped 22 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, and three blocks on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and 6-of-13 from three. Horford was 0 for his last 11 attempts from behind the arc before his three-point barrage in Game 5.
"Tonight you saw his gift -- passion, inspiration, toughness, competitive nature," C's head coach Joe Mazzulla said of Horford. "Grateful for Al. They left him open all series, and he had a tough shooting couple of days… honor to coach him."
Horford also played terrific defense on Darius Garland when switched onto him. After a 30-point showing in Game 4, Garland was neutralized to the tune of 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting. Mazzulla made a smart adjustment in their defensive coverage of Garland -- originally having Horford in a drop defense, which Garland was very comfortable going against. However, the Celtics changed to a more switch-heavy approach in Game 5 with Garland as the pick-and-roll ball handler and that worked to near perfection.

Tatum also recorded a near triple double with 25 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists on 9-of-16 from the field, including going 4-of-7 from deep. Tatum's rebounding has continued to stand out during this playoff run, as the star forward is averaging 10.4 rebounds so far in the postseason.
"I would like to think I'm a great rebounder," Tatum told reporters. "Besides all the seven foot guys in the league that are centers, I feel like I'm one of the best rebounders that's not a five-man."
Derrick White finished with 18 points, six assists while Jrue Holiday added 13 points on 5-of-9 from the floor. Jaylen Brown (seven assists) and Payton Pritchard each scored 11 points respectively for the Celtics, who are making their third-straight trip to the East Finals.

Evan Mobley notched a game-high 33 points (15-of-24 shooting) and former Celtic Marcus Morris had his best game of the series with 25 points (5-of-6 from 3-point range) off the bench for the Cavs -- without Donovan Mitchell (calf) Jarrett Allen (ribs) or Caris LeVert (knee).

Despite being short-handed, Cleveland kept it close throughout. It was knotted up at 28 after the first quarter before the Celtics took a 58-52 advantage into the break.

Boston opened the second half on an 11-5 run -- nine of those points coming from Horford or Tatum -- with the Cavs still hanging around, trailing by as little as six the rest of the third period.

A quick 8-3 scoring spurt by Cleveland to start the final frame got them within three (88-85) with 9:32 left to play, but the Celtics responded with 13-4 run of their own to finally create some separation for good and eventually lead by as much as 17 the rest of the way.

Horford capped off another 10-4 late run with a dagger 27-foot corner 3-pointer to put Boston up 113-96 with 56.1 seconds remaining, that resulted in the soon-to-be 38-year-old throwing his arms up in an emotional gesture towards the Garden faithful -- with chants of "M-V-P!" echoing through the arena as the veteran exited the game with a much deserved standing ovation.
"I just felt very connected with them tonight," Horford said in his postgame presser about how meaningful the home crowd was for him. "There was just a few times that I wanted to be embraced with them in those moments. That fuels me and that fuels our team. It was pretty special here tonight."
The Celtics await the winner of the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks, with the Knickerbockers currently leading that series 3-2. Game 1 of round-three will take place on either Sunday or Tuesday at TD Garden depending if there's a winner-take-all if New York can't close it out Friday night.

Game Notes:

Boston hit 52.5% of their field goal attempts, including 19-of-43 (44.2%) from 3-point range, while the Cavaliers were 48.1% from the floor and 13-of-31 (41.9%) from long distance. The Celtics won the rebounding battle 45-28 but were outscored in the paint 42-40. The C's dished out 33 assists (14 turnovers) on 42 baskets to Cleveland's 25 dimes (10 turnovers) on 38 made shots. 

Eli Weisberger

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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