Jayson Tatum nets 25 points, guiding the Boston Celtics to a 113-98 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, securing their final spot in the Eastern Conference

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Max Strus argues with the match referee

Al Horford wanted to cherish the moment. As the game paused and victory was secured for the Celtics, Horford turned towards the sideline, taking a few steps before pausing and raising his hands in the air. This drew cheers from the already excited TD Garden crowd.

Jayson Tatum led with 25 points and 10 rebounds, guiding Boston to a 113-98 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night. This victory propelled them to the Eastern Conference finals for the third consecutive year.

Horford contributed 22 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, and six of Boston’s 19 3-pointers. This performance helped seal the Celtics’ third straight win and clinch the series in five games.

“We had a great opportunity at home to handle this, and I knew it was going to take a lot more than handling it normally,” said Horford. He joined LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players aged 37 or older to achieve a 20-point, 15-rebound, five-assist playoff game in NBA history.

“It’s special. It’s something that’s hard to do. … This is another positive step of where we want to get to.” Now, the Celtics will await the winner of the series between the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, with New York leading 3-2.

This marks Jaylen Brown’s sixth time reaching the conference finals, while Tatum is on his fifth appearance. Tatum believes this demonstrates the team’s strong culture.

Jaylen Brown leaps forward to complete the basket

“It just shows the character of the team, the organization. People might think it’s a given we’re supposed to be here,” Tatum said. “We’re all in this together. … We’re doing something right.”

The Cavaliers faced challenges due to the absence of key players like All-Star Donovan Mitchell (calf), center Jarrett Allen (rib), and reserve Caris LeVert (knee).

Despite being short-handed, Cleveland stayed competitive until the fourth quarter, trailing 88-85 before Boston went on a 13-2 run to lead 101-87.

Evan Mobley scored a career-high 33 points with seven rebounds, while Marcus Morris Sr. contributed 25 points with five 3-pointers.

“I was proud of their effort,” said Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “This has been a difficult year for us, for a bunch of different reasons. They never found the time to fold on each other. All they did was find ways to compete.”

Now, Cleveland faces uncertainties ahead, especially regarding the futures of Mitchell and Bickerstaff. Mitchell was a key player for the Cavs in his second postseason with the team. He averaged 29.6 points but missed the last two games.

The end of Mitchell’s time with Cleveland might happen at TD Garden, where LeBron James played his final game for the Cavs before joining Miami in 2010.

While Mitchell is eligible for a contract extension, he hasn’t indicated whether he wants to stay in Cleveland or explore other options.

Evan Mobley tries to block a shot

Bickerstaff has been coaching Cleveland for four full seasons. Including the games he coached after taking over in the 2019-20 season, he has a record of 170-159 with two playoff appearances.

When asked about coaching in Cleveland next season, Bickerstaff said, “No one’s told me I’m not. So I’ll keep showing up until they tell me not to.”

Similar to Game 4 without Mitchell, the Cavs relied on 3-point shooting to stay competitive against the Celtics, making 8 of 19 attempts in the first half.

Cleveland started the second quarter strong, making 4 of 5 shots from beyond the arc to take a 46-40 lead. Morris also provided a boost off the bench, scoring 14 points in his first 12 minutes of play.

But Boston fought back and finished the first half strong with an 18-6 run, taking a 58-52 lead. “It challenged us,” said Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla. “The players stepped up. They defended their positions well. They deserve credit.”

Horford expressed his pride in the growth of Tatum and Brown since last season’s conference finals loss to Miami.

“I’m really proud of our guys for their dedication. JT, JB, how they’ve improved over time. Despite the criticism they face,” Horford said. “Our guys keep working hard and always prioritize what’s best for the team.”


By Christopher Kamila

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