Despite devastating injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, the Boston Celtics are one game away from winning the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavaliers eliminated the Celtics in last year’s Eastern Conference Finals. Boston has the tools for redemption and sits on the cusp of turning improbability into reality as they hold a 3-2 lead heading back to Cleveland. Keeping a home court mentality, improving on the offensive end, and staying on the right side of history will lead the Boston Celtics to their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010.
It’s no secret that Boston plays better at home. In their three home games this series, the Celtics have held Cleveland to an average of 86.6 PPG. Game 5 was another example of Boston elevating their play at home. The Celtics found the aggression they lost in Games 3 and 4 by executing an impressive defensive effort. Rookie Jayson Tatum had four steals while Terry Rozier picked up six defensive rebounds. In a pivotal Game 5, Boston rose to the challenge by taking advantage of a Cleveland team that, like Boston, has struggled on the road. LeBron James outscored Cleveland’s starters 26-24 and the supporting cast lost their vigor from Games 3 and 4. Going into Game 6, the Celtics must look past their road woes and close out the series in Cleveland.
Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with a 24-point performance while Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Morris, and Marcus Smart all scored in double figures in the 96-83 Game 5 victory. The team went 21-23 from the free throw line with Tatum and Brown each going 7-8 from the line. Boston outscored Cleveland 18-2 in fast break points, a testament to their incredible hustle. Even in a 13-point victory, Boston shot only 36.5% from the field. The Celtics made up for this by beating the Cavaliers on defense and returning to their home court selves. Boston can’t shoot that poorly from the field if they hope to take Game 6. Just like the Celtics, the Cavaliers perform significantly better at home than on the road. A strong performance in the first quarter has won the last three games, so the Celtics a need hot start in Cleveland.
Boston can take solace in the fact that they still own home court advantage if they’re unable to win Game 6. The Celtics are now 10-0 at home, giving them the best home record in the 2018 playoffs. Boston’s play at home should give them the confidence to win against any opponent at TD Garden, even a player who thrives in elimination games.
LeBron James has a knack for reaching new heights when facing elimination. James averages a double-double in do-or-die situations. When a series goes seven games, James is 5-2 and has not lost a Game 7 since 2008. His last loss came against the Celtics team that would eventually win the NBA title. Boston looks to stay on the positive side of history where home teams are 103-26 all-time in Game 7.
LeBron James in elimination games
— 12-9 record overall; 3-2 record vs. Celtics
— 33.5 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 7.3 APG, 49 FG%, 34 3P%
— Since 2014 return to Cleveland: 36.9 PPG, 12 RPG, 9.1 APG pic.twitter.com/YhsclBaq99
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) May 24, 2018
Given how both Cleveland and Boston play at home, this series will go the distance. The Cavaliers will need more than a historic game from James to break past Boston’s young talent and home dominance. The Celtics still have a difficult road ahead of them to make it out of the Eastern Conference. In a season characterized by pushing past expectations, this Celtics team is ready for the challenge.
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