Celtics Win Crucial Game 5 as LeBron James Can't Carry Cavaliers on Road

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistMay 24, 2018

BOSTON, MA - MAY 23: Jayson Tatum #0 of the Boston Celtics reacts to a play in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 23, 2018 at the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics are one win away from their first NBA Finals appearance since 2010. 

After dropping a pair of Eastern Conference Finals games in Northeast Ohio, the Celtics snapped out of their mid-series malaise and churned out a 96-83 Game 5 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night at TD Garden behind quality outings from Jayson Tatum (24 points) and Jaylen Brown (17 points). 

A visibly tired LeBron James (26 points, 10 rebounds, five assists) and Kevin Love (14 points, seven rebounds) did the heavy lifting for the Cavaliers, while Cleveland's other three starters combined for only 10 points.  

   

Celtics Must Treat Game 6 Like Elimination Game

Game 6 won't be do-or-die for the Celtics like it will be for the Cavaliers. But based on historical precedent, they have to treat it like one. 

The reason is simple: The Cavaliers have James on their side.

LeBron has a career 5-2 record in Game 7s, including five straight wins. The most recent triumph came in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, when James erupted for 45 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as the Cavaliers downed the Indiana Pacers and punched their ticket to the conference semifinals. Thanks to that performance, LeBron became the only player in league history to score 45 points in a Game 7 on two separate occasions, according to ESPN.

The Celtics should want no part of that. 

To avoid a return trip to TD Garden, Boston will have to overcome its playoff road woes. The Celtics are 1-6 away from home since the start of the postseason and have been outscored by an average of 11.6 points per 100 possessions in those tilts, according to NBA.com

The Celtics have the comfort of knowing they'll have one more game back in Bostonwhere they're undefeated in the playoffs—if they drop Game 6. But given James' illustrious track record, it would behoove them to produce their finest road effort of the playoffs to avoid becoming the latest victim of the King's Game 7 dominance. 

Is LeBron's Workload Finally Catching Up to Him?

After Game 4, James brushed off NBA tracking data that showed he was among the slowest players in the league during the playoffs. 

"Tell them to track how tired I am after the game, track that s--t," he told The Athletic's Jason Lloyd. "I'm No. 1 in the NBA on how tired I am after the game."

On Wednesday, it showed.   

James appeared exhausted as early as the second quarter, and while he scored a team-high 26 points in 39 minutes, he committed six turnovers compared to five assists. That marked the second straight game in which he tallied more giveaways than helpers. 

For a passer and decision-maker of James' caliber, those figures are eye-opening. 

Then again, he has played 38.8 minutes per night through the first five games of the Eastern Conference Finals after shouldering a workload in excess of 41 minutes per game in each of the first two rounds. 

While he may seem superhuman at times, that type of physical pounding was bound to catch up to him. 

In Game 6, another heavy burden surely awaits. And if Wednesday was any indication, he may need some help to avoid an early trip to the beach.  

   

LeBron's Future Hanging in the Balance

The Cavaliers are staring down elimination, which means LeBron could be facing questions galore about his future in Cleveland as soon as Friday night. 

If that sounds familiar, it should. 

The same story unfolded eight years ago, when the Celtics knocked James and the top-seeded Cavaliers out of the playoffs in the second round.

James proceeded to hit unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career, and one cringeworthy TV special later, he was headed to the Miami Heat. 

It's fair to wonder if a redux is in order this year—minus the melodrama that accompanied The Decision

While James has been tight-lipped about his free agency, a few options could be more attractive than the Cavs from a personnel standpoint. League sources told The Ringer's Kevin O'Connor that the 65-win Houston Rockets, financially flexible Los Angeles Lakers and upside-laden Philadelphia 76ers will join the Cavaliers on the list of teams James considers joining, which suggests Cleveland will have legitimate competition for his services this summer. 

With a loss on Friday, whispers of his potential departure figure to grow even louder before reaching a fever pitch at the start of July.  

      

What's Next? 

The series shifts back to Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavaliers haven't lost since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Game 6 will tip off at 8:30 p.m. ET on Friday night.   

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