Jazz forward Gordon Hayward, shooting over Golden State's Zaza Pachulia in the playoffs, could be a great fit in Boston.</p>
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Kyrie Irving dominated the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. (David Richard/USA Today Sports)

Kyrie Irving dominated the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals. (David Richard/USA Today Sports)

Despite all the talk about the dominance of LeBron James, who heads to his seventh consecutive NBA Finals next week, in many ways it was the play of Kyrie Irving that proved to be the undoing of the Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals.

The sixth-year point guard was outstanding throughout the series, averaging 25.8 points per game. This was highlighted by his 42-point performance in Game 4, a contest where LeBron had four fouls in the first half for the first time in his career.

Following the Cavs victory and elimination of Boston on Thursday night, Irving heaped praise on the Celtics and their injured leader Isaiah Thomas.

“You have to commend them for accomplishing what they did, especially in the regular season,” Irving said to reporters. “I mean, the goals that they set, they were definitely challenging for us, and it made the league turn for a little bit, just 1 versus 2, 2, 1, who was going to get first place and who was actually ready for the playoffs. That makes basketball exciting. That makes the league exciting. And the fashion that they were playing basketball was at such a high level.”

Thomas, whose extraordinary season and courageous playoff performance was cut short, did not appear in the final three games of the series due to an injured hip.

Irving expressed dismay at the loss of Thomas and complimented his play.

“Honestly we didn’t want IT to go down,” Irving said. “But the way that guy has played, I mean, the way he was playing, he’s deserving of all the credit that he’s gotten. As well as guys like Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk and just all their guys. They’re just dedicated to basketball. They’re coming out and their hitting us, and they don’t care who you are. I was watching before tonight’s game the game that they played in Golden State. And the way, in the fashion that they did that [beating the Warriors at Oracle Arena]. That was the testament, that was the turn of how special they could be. And that made it this far. And it was 1 versus 2. It was a matchup that we were all looking forward to, and I’m glad that we prevailed. But they tested us every single minute, and we needed that.”

Blog Author: 
Nick Neville

When the Celtics signed Al Horford to a max contract last summer, they knew the 6-foot-10 center would make an immediate impact, but few expected him to help lead the team to the Eastern Conference finals.

That’s exactly what he and this Celtics team did, and while they fell short of their ultimate goal, Horford views his first year in Boston as a success.

Al Horford played well in his first season in Boston. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

Al Horford played well in his first season in Boston. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

When the Celtics signed Al Horford to a max contract last summer, they knew the 6-foot-10 center would make an immediate impact, but few expected him to help lead the team to the Eastern Conference finals.

That’s exactly what he and this Celtics team did, and while they fell short of their ultimate goal, Horford views his first year in Boston as a success.

“I’m proud of our group,” Horford said to reporters following the Celtics’ 135-102 loss to Cleveland in Game 5 on Thursday night. “I felt like we grew as the year went on. Not the way that we wanted to finish, but I felt like we came a long way from the beginning of the year, and we came together, and that was fun to be a part of.”

Horford finished the regular season averaging 14 points, 6.8 rebounds and five assists per game, but perhaps his most significant contribution was on the defensive end. He served as an anchor for a young Celtics team in search of tough big men and many of the things Horford does best do not show up on the box score. He is one of the best passing big men in the NBA, and his versatility was evident throughout the playoffs.  

Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Wizards was the quintessential Horford game. The 30-year-old shot 6-of-9 from the field, dropped 21 points and was one assist away from a triple-double.

Though his rebounding numbers were the lowest of his career this season, he found his niche in Boston. His outside shot has improved in recent years, and his ability to drain the three consistently helps stretch the defense and spread the floor. He shot .355 from 3-point range during the regular season, but upped that percentage to .519 during the playoffs.

Horford, who had been swept by LeBron James four times as a member of the Hawks before this series, knows a thing or two about James’ dominance in the Eastern Conference. Does he think this Celtics team has what it takes to dethrone the King next season?

“You know, that’s a good question,” Horford said. “We think we have a good group of guys, guys that compete, that play hard, and we still have to keep growing as a group, getting better and we obviously see that the team to get past is Cleveland. Right now we’re not there. We’re not where we need to be, but I’m proud of our guys.”

Blog Author: 
Nick Neville

In the moments after becoming the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer in a Game 5 rout of the Celtics and heading to the NBA Finals for a seventh straight year, LeBron James began his press conference Thursday night talking about his friend, Isaiah Thomas.

The superstar came up to Thomas after the game on the court and gave him an embrace. After the game, he explained why.

May 25, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) and Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) meet after game five of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James and Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas meet after game five of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at the TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

In the moments after becoming the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer in a Game 5 rout of the Celtics and heading to the NBA Finals for a seventh straight year, LeBron James began his press conference Thursday night talking about his friend, Isaiah Thomas.

The superstar came up to Thomas after the game on the court and gave him an embrace. After the game, he explained why.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen him since he didn’t return for the second half in Game 2,” James said of Thomas’ season-ending hip injury. “Throughout the series we didn’t get an opportunity to actually have that moment. I know I said a few things in the media about the situation he was going through, but I was happy to see him. Just give him a big hug from myself and my family.

“Just how tough and determined the guy is, and to be able to go through the situation he was going through on a day-to-day basis, still being focused and maintaining his focus for the team — family is everything, and basketball comes second after family, and to see him perform the way he was performing throughout the playoffs under the circumstances was a treat to watch. A lot more words were said, but that’s the gist of it.”

“They were playing basketball at such a high level,” Kyrie Irving added. “And honestly, we didn’t want IT to go down. But the way that guy has played, I mean, the way he was playing, he’s deserving of all the credit that he’s gotten.”

James and Irving were clearly impressed by how Thomas dealt with the death of his sister, Chyna, on the eve of the playoffs on April 15. Then, in Game 1 of the second round against Washington, he broke three front teeth in his mouth before seeing his season end with a hip injury sustained in Game 6 against the Wizards.

James was asked, given how far the Celtics made it this season and that they also own the No. 1 pick, if he thinks it’s likely he’ll see them again next season deep in the playoffs.

“I don’t know. That’s a question that none of us can answer in here. They have a great team right now,” James said. “IT is going to come back healthy. They have the No. 1 pick; we’ll see what they do with that. But I can’t answer that question and know if we’re going to play them in the Eastern Conference finals next year. I have no idea.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

There would be no magical comeback on this night. There would be no slow start from LeBron James or Kyrie Irving. There would be only complete domination from start to finish by the defending NBA champions and an end to the Celtics upstart playoff run. 

May 25, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) dribbles the ball around Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the second quarter of game five of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Bradley and the Celtics were overwhelmed by LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Game 5 of the Eastern finals Thursday at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

There would be no magical comeback on this night. There would be no slow start from LeBron James or Kyrie Irving. There would be only complete domination from start to finish by the defending NBA champions and an end to the Celtics upstart playoff run. 

Kyrie Irving opened the third quarter with three bullseyes from beyond the arc as part of his 24-point performance while James added 35 points, eight rebounds and eight assists to lead the Cavaliers past the Celtics, 135-102, Thursday night at TD Garden in Game 5 of the Eastern finals. The Cavaliers win the series, 4-1, and advance to meet the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals starting June 1 in Oakland. It is the first time in NBA history that two teams will meet for three straight seasons. The two rivals have split the previous two encounters. 

The Celtics were outscored by 13, 44 and 33 points in the most lopsided series of home losses in the Celtics playoff history. 

The start of the game was a continuation of the 44-point destruction in the last game played in Boston. For the third time in five games, Kevin Love opened the contest with a three. Marcus Smart responded to tied the game at 3. It would be the only time Boston would be tied the rest of the night. Love’s turnaround hook shot with 93 seconds into the game gave Cleveland the lead for good, 5-3.  

The Celtics looked horrid while the Cavaliers looked like a team that wanted no part of a Game 6 back in Cleveland. 

Kelly Olynyk’s airball on a three led to a J.R. Smith leak out, dunk and timeout from Brad Stevens. Four minutes later, LeBron James put a move on Al Horford and drove to the basket for a dunk, triggering the second timeout of the quarter from Stevens. It was 28-12 and the rout was in full throttle. 

In between the Olynyk airball and the LeBron dunk, the Celtics had three turnovers, a missed Avery Bradley layup and blocks from James and Tristan Thompson.

Down 19-10 after two free throws from Thompson, the crowd that battled through horrific traffic outside began chanting “Let’s Go Celtics”. 

A three-point play from Kyrie Irving with 2:45 left, the Celtics trailed 37-16, bringing the score to 167-102 Cleveland in the last five quarters of basketball in Boston going back to the start of Game 2. 

The Celtics made a mini-run to cut the lead to 37-22. But James hit a 19-foot fallaway as the shot clock was expiring and Irving drained a three for a 43-23 Cleveland advantage. The Celtics closed it to 43-27 at the end of the first quarter. Cleveland’s 43 points fell just two shy of the all-time NBA playoff record for most points in an opening period, set in 1985 by the Lakers and matched by three others since.

(For a full box score, click here).

The second quarter started off on a promising note as the Celtics cut the lead to 13 on a Jae Crowder three-point play. But the Cavaliers responded with a 16-6 run to build a 23-point lead at 59-36. The half again appeared to end on a positive note for the Celtics as Avery Bradley scored six straight points to cut the lead to 73-57.

But the Cavaliers scored a basket on a goaltending call on Al Horford that caused Brad Stevens to flail angrily on the sidelines. The Cavs took a 75-57 lead to the locker room at the half. The 75 points marked a franchise playoff record for the Cavs while the 75 points were the most in a playoff game since May 9, 2003 when the Mavericks scored 83 against Sacramento in Game 2 of the Western semifinals.

Irving nailed a three in the face of Crowder to open the third quarter and another two minutes later to extend Cleveland’s lead to 83-61. Irving hit his third triple of the opening four minutes of the half to extend the Cavaliers to an 86-63 lead. James drove to the basket uncontested with 6:38 left in the third to put the Cavaliers up, 90-65, sending fans to the exits. 

One sequence said it all in the third quarter. Irving flew in for an offensive rebound, dished to LeBron for a one-handed slam. That was followed by a muscle flex to the VIPs under the Celtics basket. One possession later, J.R. Smith canned a three from the right wing and it was 95-65. The Cavaliers closed the third quarter ahead, 109-74 as fans began taking photos with Brian Scalabrine in the media section before heading for the exits. 

Most of the starters came out of the game with eight minutes left and the Cavaliers up 39 points, 115-76. 

As the game ended, the crowd gave the Celtics a standing ovation amidst “Let’s Go Celtics” chants. 

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Here are five things that you need to know before tip-off of the Celtics’ Game 5 against the Cavaliers Thursday night at TD Garden: 

  1. Kyrie Irving is feeling it. LeBron James was sent to the bench in the second quarter of Game 4, but Irving never missed a step. Despite an ankle tweak, he went on to score 42 points and dish out four assists. Avery Bradley did as well as he could on Irving, but Game 5 is going to be about the Celtics rotation on the backend of the defense to help alleviate the pressure of the one-on-one defense. 
  2. Celtics ball movement is there, and the scoring will come. There is no doubt about it that the Celtics ball movement makes them one of the most difficult teams to guard, but there needs to be an intent to score the ball. In the 111-108 Game 3 win, the Celtics had 28 assists and in the Game 5 loss they tallied 26. It’s not about making the extra passes as it is now about finishing and converting on each possession in Game 6. 
  3. Marcus Smart and Al Horford are the game changers. Despite going 1-for-9 in Game 4, Smart was coming off a 27-point performance in Game 3. Recall games 5 and 7 of the Wizards serie
    The Celtics will host the Cavs beginning Wednesday night. (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

    The Celtics will host the Cavs beginning Wednesday night. (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

    s. The Celtics were successful because of Smarts all-around solid performances and padding of the stat sheets. In Game 5 he scored nine points, grabbed 11 rebounds and gave out six assists while in Game 7 he went for 13 points, six rebounds and four assists. Horford’s 16-point performance in Game 5 was a quiet one, but if he can to the paint and use his stepback fadeaway shot, he will be difficult to stop. 
  4. Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder are probable while Jaylen Brown is questionable. Johnson, who didn’t play in Game 4, is listed as probable for Thursday evening, but Crowder, who hit the ground after an uncomfortable fall in Game 4, joins him on that list. Crowder had a solid outing in Game 4 with 18 points and eight rebounds while shooting 4-of-7 from three-point range. Brown also looked uncomfortable at the end of the third quarter after a strong take to the basket and taking a moment on the baseline before getting up. He remains questionable for Game 5 with a hip pointer.
  5. The Celtics are HOME. In the last home appearance of the series, the crowd was vocal with its disappointment in the Celtics performance. Bradley’s game-winning three-pointer with 1/10 of a second left on the clock in Game 3 kept the series alive for another game in Boston. The crowd will be vocal and on edge to push the Celtics one game closer to even the series. 
Blog Author: 
Olivia Healy

LeBron James struggles were noticeable in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals and following the game Richard Jefferson said James was sick, leaving speculation James’ illness also plagued him in Game 4.