5 pivotal plays from the Celtics’ Game 5 victory

Jayson Tatum
Celtics forward Jayson Tatum reacts after a first half out-of-bounds call went Boston's way in Game 5. –Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The Celtics shot 36.5 percent from the field in Game 5 and still protected their home-court advantage against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Cleveland left Boston carrying a 96-83 defeat, knowing they’d have to come back and win at the TD Garden to advance to the NBA Finals.

Cavaliers guard Kyle Korver said after the game that “basketball is a game of runs.” The Celtics made better use of their runs on Wednesday night, milking an extra point or two from their momentum and coming up with a defensive stop every time the Cavs tried to build some of their own.


Here are five pivotal plays from Game 5:

Jayson Tatum hits his mark on the fast-break

The Celtics started the brighter of the teams, with Aron Baynes picking up a quick four points and three rebounds in his first start of the series. Then the Cavaliers made a run, punctuated by a three-pointer from LeBron James and two more from Kevin Love to take an early lead. In stepped Jayson Tatum.

Tatum pulled up from behind the arc with J.R. Smith’s hand in his face and drained the three. After a missed shot on the ensuing Cavaliers possession, Tatum grabbed the rebound before pushing the ball up the floor at pace. He drifted to his right with the eyes of every Cleveland defender on him, then rifled a pass to Baynes alone under the basket. Baynes capped the play with an emphatic dunk.

The run Tatum sparked concluded with the Celtics leading 32-19 at the end of the first quarter.

The Cavaliers shoved their way back into the game

At the 10:50 mark of the second quarter, LeBron James lofted an alley-oop pass for Larry Nance Jr. Marcus Morris wasn’t having it. Morris challenged Nance Jr. at the rim, sending ball and man to the floor. The Celtics forward celebrated the block by standing over Nance Jr., which prompted him to jump back to his feet and shove Morris in the back. Much shoving and hold-me-backing ensued.


After a lengthy official review, both players and Terr Rozier were assessed technicals fouls. By the time the replays and foul shots were finished, the Celtics’ momentum appeared to have sapped away. The Cavaliers scored nine unanswered points to pull back within eight.

However, a three-pointer from Morris stemmed Cleveland’s run and the Celtics recovered to lead 53-42 at the end of the half.

Rozier steals, Tatum scores

Early in the third quarter, LeBron gathered in a loose ball off a missed shot by the Celtics and turned upcourt. Two dribbles took James well into Boston’s half, where he tried to put a bounce pass in Kevin Love’s path. If Love scored on the play, it would have cut the Celtics’ lead to eight.

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Instead, the ball ended up in Rozier’s hands. The Celtics guard reached in to intercept, then found Tatum. Once again, a contest by J.R. Smith wasn’t enough to stop the rookie from draining a three-pointer. The lead went back up to 13.

Al Horford slams to end another Cavs run

Every time it looked like the Cavaliers were turning the blowout back into a ballgame, the Celtics answered to keep them at bay. In this sequence midway through the fourth quarter, Cleveland strung together another run of nine straight points before James missed a shot and Morris threw an outlet pass from his back.

Rozier dribbled over halfcourt, forced Nance Jr. to commit, then floated the ball over his head to Al Horford. The Celtics center slammed it home. With 5:49 left in the game, Boston was back up 85-71.

Tatum tacks on three more

The Celtics were well on their way to victory as the clock ticked down to the final two minutes, so this was less a pivotal play and more a reminder (it had been over a minute since he last scored) that Jayson Tatum is actually not half-bad at this basketball thing. The rookie caught a cross-court pass from Guerschon Yabusele, side-stepped a defender, and swished a 23-foot jumper.


Tatum led his team in scoring on the night with 24 points, adding three three-pointers to his seven rebounds, four steals, and two blocks. He’s the first rookie since Jack Sikma in 1978 to reach 300 points in the postseason.