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Celtics fend off Cavs, return to Eastern Conference finals

Celtics fend off Cavs, return to Eastern Conference finals

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics, behind 25 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists from Jayson Tatum, defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-98 in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series Wednesday night, advancing to the Eastern Conference finals for a third straight season.

The Celtics’ secured their sixth trip to the East finals in eight years, marking the second time they have accomplished that feat (also 1980-88) and joining the Philadelphia 76ers (1977-85), Los Angeles Lakers (1980-91), Chicago Bulls (1989-98), Detroit Pistons (2003-08) and Golden State Warriors (2015-22) in doing so since the NBA went to a two-conference format in the 1970-71 season.

Boston will now await the winner of the other Eastern Conference semifinal between the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, which New York leads 3-2 heading into Friday’s Game 6 in Indianapolis, with the conference finals set to begin at TD Garden either Sunday afternoon or Tuesday night.

For much of the first half Wednesday night, however, it looked like that might not be the case, despite Cleveland playing without star guard Donovan Mitchell (left calf strain); guard Caris LeVert (left knee bone bruise), Mitchell’s replacement in the starting lineup in Game 4; and starting center Jarrett Allen, who missed his eighth straight game with a bruised rib.

Cleveland led for chunks of the first half — mainly behind a red-hot shooting performance from former Celtic Marcus Morris, who had 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting in the opening 24 minutes — before Boston eventually took a 58-52 lead into half time.

It was the latest reminder of how the Celtics have played wildly differently at home compared to on the road over the past few playoffs. Entering Wednesday’s action, Boston had gone 14-14 at TD Garden since the start of the 2022 playoffs — the most games played (28) without a winning record at home over three postseasons in NBA history, per ESPN’s Stats & Information. That includes dropping Game 2 of both Boston’s first-round series against the Miami Heat and this series against Cleveland despite both opponents missing key contributors because of injuries.

On the road, however, Boston is undefeated (4-0) in these playoffs, and 18-7 overall over the past three postseasons.

But after the sluggish start, Boston finally began to get some traction – and some energy into its home crowd – behind several hustle plays from Al Horford, who is just a couple of…

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