By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Celtics are one win away from a trip to the NBA Finals.
The Celtics beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 96-83 Wednesday night in the Eastern Conference finals, taking a 3-2 series lead. They can punch their ticket to the finals with a win in Cleveland (something they haven’t done this series) on Friday night.
Boston was led by 24 points from Jayson Tatum, who put together a fantastic all-around performance for the Celtics. The 20-year-old rookie hit seven of his 15 shots (including three of seven from downtown) and played some solid defense on LeBron James throughout the contest.
Veteran Al Horford has 15 points and 12 rebounds while Jaylen Brown added 17 points for Boston. Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart both had 13 points off the bench for the Celtics.
The Celtics shot just 37 percent from the floor, their worst shooting percentage of the postseason, but won thanks to their stellar defense. Cleveland turned the ball over 15 times during the game and shot just 9-for-34 from downtown. Boston also won the rebounding battle, 45-39.
While James finished with 26 points, he did so on 11-for-22 shooting and had just five assists. Kevin Love had 14 points and seven rebounds for Cleveland, but the Celtics did a great job limiting the rest of Cleveland’s supporting cast. Their three other starters — George Hill, J.R. Smith and Tristan Thompson — scored just 10 points on 2-for-14 shooting. The Cleveland bench scored 32 points, hitting six of Cleveland’s nine threes, but much of that came late in the game when the outcome was essentially decided.
The Celtics led by 13 after the first quarter, closing the frame on a 23-7 run. It was fueled by aggressive play by Tatum on both ends of the floor, as he had nine points in the first 12 minutes of the game.
The Celtics held a 53-42 advantage at half thanks to their strong defense and solid shooting from downtown. They led by as many as 17 in the second quarter, hitting nine of their 22 three-point attempts in the first half. They finished 13-for-39 overall from three-point land.
Boston’s lead ballooned to 21 in the early minutes of the fourth quarter, but a 9-0 Cleveland run had the Cavs back within 12 with 7:49 to play. After a sloppy stretch by both teams, the Celtics turned a James missed layup into a Rozier-to-Horford alley-oop to put Boston up 85-71 with 5:49 remaining. Horford knocked down a straight-away three with just under four minutes to give the Celtics a 17-point lead.
With the win, the Celtics improved to 10-0 at home this postseason. Boston fans serenaded the TD Garden with a “Celtics In 6!” chant late in the game. We’ll find out if they get their wish on Friday.