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Cavaliers face elimination after Game 5 loss to Celtics

By JOE VARDON • May 24, 2018 at 2:03 AM

BOSTON — The Cavaliers again face elimination in these playoffs, only this time the opponent has two chances to knock them out.

The Boston Celtics owned Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, beating Cleveland 96-83 to take a 3-2 lead in this series. The road team has yet to win a game so far.

If the Celtics break that streak in Game 6 Friday, they'll end the Cavs' three-year run as conference champs and snap LeBron James' string of seven straight Finals.

"I look forward to seeing us respond on Friday night," James said. "That's the only thing I can worry about right now."

Boston coach Brad Stevens made a lineup change and the Celtics played as big as they could personnel wise for as long as they could. The Cavs, well, they shrunk.

"I thought we would play better, but we didn't," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "We didn't play well."

James led Cleveland with 26 points and Kevin Love added 14 points and seven boards. No other Cav reached double figures. Cleveland's other three starters -- George Hill, JR Smith, and Tristan Thompson -- combined for two baskets on 14 shots. Smith and Hill were 2-of-11 from the field, and Jordan Clarkson was 3-of-10 off the bench.

The Celtics won in a blowout despite shooting .365 from the field. Jayson Tatum led them with 24 points and Jaylen Brown added 17. Marcus Smart shot 4-of-17 in Games 3 and 4 in Cleveland, and naturally recovered to go 5-of-9 with 13 points off Boston's bench.

Stevens started Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris to give Al Horford (15 points, 12 boards) more help, but often played the three of them together and used Smart against Cleveland's point guards.

"We're going to have to play big some," Stevens said. "We wanted to play big a little more. Baynes is a really good defender. He helps in a ton of different ways."

"It was the right move," Lue said.

The Celtics won the rebounding battle 45-39 (after being beaten badly there in Cleveland), and turned the Cavs over 15 times for 15 points. Boston also connected on 13 three-pointers and picked up another 21 points at the foul line (on 23 shots).

There was a brief moment of life in the fourth quarter where the Cavs went on a 9-0 run to trim a 21-point deficit to 12 with 7:50 left. And then Kyle Korver missed a 3, Clarkson missed two, and James missed a layup followed by two turnovers. They trailed 90-73 with 3:35 left and that was it.

"Basketball is a game of runs and that was a bad time to have a bad run," Korver said.

James finished 11-of-22 shooting with 10 boards and five assists in 39 minutes. He committed six turnovers. Lue said he thought James looked tired on Wednesday. This was James' 98th game this season.

"I had my moments," James said. "But I think everybody at this point is tired or worn down or whatever the case may be. ... We had an opportunity, but we didn't make enough plays."

Korver didn't play at all in the first quarter. He finished with seven points in 19 minutes.

"Initially, (Stevens) has been putting (Semi) Ojeleye in, so that's kind of been Kyle's matchup when he comes in the game," Lue said. "(Stevens) didn't pay (Ojeleye) tonight, so it kind of threw us for a loop."

The Celtics are 10-0 at home in the playoffs, so the Cavs were looking for a fast start to quiet things down a bit at TD Garden.

It wasn't to be. Boston connected on six 3s in the first quarter and Cleveland committed five turnovers. The Celtics' young team was rolling by quarter's end. Love scored 10 in the first but was on the bench before it was over with two fouls, and the Celtics led 32-19.

The Celtics were on a 9-0 run and up 17 when Morris momentarily awakened the Cavs. Morris fouled Larry Nance Jr. hard as he was going up to catch a lob from James with 10:47 in the second quarter. Morris seemed to hover over Nance, who was on the ground, and when he got up he shoved Morris. Terry Rozier raced around the melee and shoved Nance from behind. Technicals were awarded to all three players involved.

The Cavs responded by scoring the next nine (Clarkson, yes, he made two 3s) and were as close as seven points, but the half ended with Boston ahead 53-42. The Celtics shot 17-of-45 (.378) in the first half; James scored 16 on 7-of-11 shooting by halftime.

James and Love were the only Cavs starters to make a basket in the first half, and Love didn't score in the second quarter.

Game 6 is at 8:30 p.m. Friday at The Q.

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