Boston Celtics

Celtics-Cavs takeaways: Horford wills C's to East Finals berth

The soon-to-be 38-year-old brought the energy to TD Garden on Wednesday night.

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BOSTON -- For the sixth time in eight years, the Boston Celtics are heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The C's finished off the Cleveland Cavaliers with a hard-fought Game 5 victory Wednesday night at TD Garden. The undermanned Cavs kept it close throughout the first three frames but Boston finished strong and ran away with a 113-98 triumph.

All five Celtics starters scored in double figures with Jayson Tatum (25 points) and Al Horford (22 points) leading the charge. For Cleveland, Evan Mobley (33 points) and ex-Celtic Marcus Morris (25 points) stepped up with Donovan Mitchell, Caris LeVert, and Jarrett Allen sidelined. That's Morris' highest scoring total since March 13, 2022.

Boston awaits the New York Knicks or the Indiana Pacers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The Knicks have a 3-2 series lead heading into Friday's Game 6 in Indiana.

Before we look ahead to the next round, here are three takeaways from Wednesday's series-clincher vs. Cleveland.

Historic night for Al Horford

Veteran big man Al Horford entered Game 5 struggling as the Celtics' Kristaps Porzingis replacement in the starting lineup. The 37-year-old missed his last 11 3-point attempts heading into the matchup.

Horford quickly snapped that streak early in the first quarter, and that set the tone for the rest of Wednesday's game. He finished the first half with nine points (3-8 3-PT), three rebounds, and three blocks.

One key contribution you won't find on the box score was Horford's energy. It was a quiet crowd at TD Garden until Horford fired C's fans up with multiple hustle plays in the second quarter. First, he followed a 3-point make with a forced turnover on the other end of the floor. Shortly afterward, he jumped into the C's bench while chasing down a loose ball and threw it off the Cavs.

Horford received a standing ovation when he checked out in the third quarter, but he wasn't done.

After a rocky start to the fourth (two turnovers), Horford found his groove again with his fifth 3 of the night followed by another make on the next possession to extend Boston's lead to nine with about 7:20 remaining. His sixth and final 3-pointer perfectly topped the game off with just under a minute to go.

Horford's performance stands alone in NBA history. He is the only player ever to record at least 10 rebounds, five 3-pointers, five assists, and three blocks in a postseason game, per Celtics stats guru Dick Lipe. His final line: 22 points (8-15 FG, 6-13 3-PT), 15 rebounds, five assists, three blocks, and a steal in 35 minutes. He was everywhere.

The five-time All-Star, who turns 38 next month, picked the perfect time to have his best game of the playoffs. He'll have plenty of time to rest up before the Eastern Conference Finals, during which the Celtics will hope to have Porzingis back in the mix.

Derrick White snaps out of slump

White has had his share of memorable moments already in these playoffs, but he has struggled over his last three games. He entered shooting 8-for-30 from the floor and just 5-for-20 from beyond the arc in that stretch.

It didn't take long for White to break out of his slump. He drilled his first 3-point attempt of the game and ended up with 10 first-quarter points on 4-of-8 shooting. He had 15 points in the first half after topping out at 12 points over his last three games.

Per Dick Lipe, White became the first Celtics player in the play-by-play era to have at least 15 points, five assists, four boards, and two blocks in the first half of a playoff game.

White added only three more points in the second half, but he remained outstanding on the other end. The All-Defensive guard finished with 18 points, six assists, five rebounds, and two blocks.

Jayson Tatum finishes series strong

Tatum's shooting struggles were scrutinized early in this series, but the Celtics superstar issued an emphatic response to his critics over the final three games.

After back-to-back 33-point performances, Tatum helped send the Cavs home with a near-triple-double. It was a quietly stellar Game 5 for the 26-year-old, who finished with a team-high 25 points (9-16 FG, 3-7 3-PT), 10 rebounds, nine assists, and four steals.

Tatum is heating up at the ideal time for Boston. The Celtics will need their best player to take his game to yet another level in the next round against either the Knicks or the Pacers.

Whichever team advances to meet the C's in the Eastern Conference Finals will by far their biggest test of their postseason run.

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