(USA TODAY Sports via Reuters/Winslow Townson)
The Boston Celtics are one win away from the NBA Finals. The Celtics did what they’ve done all postseason long — win at home — as they toppled the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5, 96-83. Jayson Tatum, who has been fairly quiet in this series, finally had his breakout game. He had a terrific all-around performance as he finished with 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals, and two blocks. Running mates Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier were both off, but it didn’t matter as the Celtics defense once again did a number on the Cavs.
As for Cleveland, it was the same old story. LeBron James played well, but he didn’t get anywhere near the type of production he needed from his supporting cast. Growing desperate, Tyronn Lue played Jordan Clarkson in search for more offense. After hitting two 3-pointers in the first half, Clarkson finished with just eight points on 3-of-10 shooting in 15 minutes. Meanwhile, JR Smith (two points, 1-of-6 FG) and George Hill (seven points, 1-of-5 FG) were both unable to carry over their improved shooting in Cleveland on the road.
Three keys to the game
Home-court advantage - It’s no secret at this point that the Celtics are just a completely different team on the road than they are at home. That puts their ability to close out a LeBron James-led team on the road in serious doubt. That fact alone should give the Cavs a lot of confidence in pushing this series to a Game 7.
Cavs supporting cast - But the Cavs still need to play well to win. Correction: the non-LeBron Cavs need to play well. The good news is they have been a lot better for the most part at home. Smith and Hill, in particular, were finally hitting shots in Games 3 and 4 before completely disappearing once again in Game 5. If two or three role players can step up and play even competent basketball, James should have enough help to stave off elimination.
Celtics defense - The Boston offense has just fallen off a cliff whenever they’ve gone on the road in the postseason. It’s happened enough times where it’s unlikely that that changes. But their defense is still amazing, as they showed in Game 5. Even if their shots aren’t falling, they could still end the series if they can keep the other Cavs quiet like they have during the Boston games.
Matchup to watch
Aron Baynes vs Tristan Thompson - Brad Stevens finally put Baynes in the starting lineup in Game 5, and the Aussie did his job. He contributed to Tristan Thompson (one point, six rebounds) having by far his worst game of the series. If Baynes can help prevent the Celtics from getting out-muscled on the boards on the road, that would be big for Boston.
Celtics projected starting lineup
PG - Terry Rozier | SG - Jaylen Brown | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Al Horford | C - Aron Baynes
Cavs projected starting lineup
PG - George Hill | SG - JR Smith | SF - LeBron James | PF - Kevin Love | C - Tristan Thompson
Jaylen Brown had his worst shooting night of the series in Game 5 as he went just 4-of-15 from the field. But he still finished with 17 points, three boards, and two assists. He’s likely to bounce back though, and after seeing what he did in Game 4 in Cleveland (25 points, six rebounds, two steals), he could be bound for another big game.
As for the Cavs, Hill was the big difference-maker for them in Games 3 and 4 in Cleveland. He had 13 points in both games, and also added some rebounds and steals. At this point, he feels like a safer bet than Smith to provide a meaningful fantasy contribution in a game where they need any sort of production from him.
It’s hard not to see the Cavs winning this game. Obviously, there’s the massive home-road discrepancy in this series that's tough to ignore. This could possibly be LeBron James’ last game ever in Cleveland, and he likely won’t want to go out losing to an undermanned Celtics team. Take the Cavs to win and cover.
The Cavs take this series to a decisive Game 7 as they take care of business at home, 108-100.
This game will be broadcast on ESPN. Tip-off is at 8:30 pm Eastern.