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Jayson Tatum scores 25 to lead Celtics past Cavaliers 113-98 and into 3rd consecutive East finals

BOSTON — (AP) — Al Horford wanted to savor the moment.

With play stopped and the Celtics' victory no longer in doubt, Horford turned in the direction of the sideline, walked a few paces, stopped and extended his hands overhead, bringing an already raucous TD Garden crowd to its feet in applause.

The task was done.

Jayson Tatum had 25 points and 10 rebounds, and Boston beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-98 on Wednesday night to advance to the Eastern Conference finals for the third straight season.

Horford added 22 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and six of Boston’s 19 3-pointers to help the Celtics post their third consecutive win and wrap up the series in five games.

“We had a great opportunity at home to handle this, and I knew it was going to take a lot more than handling it normally.” said Horford, who joined LeBron James and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players 37 years or older to record a 20-point, 15-rebound, five-assist playoff game in NBA history. “It’s special. It’s something that’s hard to do. ... This is another positive step of where we want to get to.”

The Celtics will now await the winner of the matchup between the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers. New York leads that series 3-2.

This will be Jaylen Brown's sixth conference finals appearance and the fifth for Tatum. Tatum said it's proof that the team culture is strong.

“It just shows the character of the team, the organization. People might think it's a given we're supposed to be here,” Tatum said. "We're all in this together. ... We're doing something right.

The Cavaliers played extremely short-handed without All-Star Donovan Mitchell (calf), center Jarrett Allen (rib) and key reserve Caris LeVert (knee).

Cleveland stayed close through the first three quarters and pulled within 88-85 early in the fourth. Boston then went on a 13-2 run to take a 101-87 lead with 6:44 to play.

Evan Mobley scored a playoff career-high 33 points and had seven rebounds. Marcus Morris Sr. had five 3-pointers and finished with 25 points.

“I was proud of their effort,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “This has been a difficult year for us, for a bunch of different reasons. They never found the time to fold on each other. All they did was find ways to compete.”

Cleveland now enters a summer of uncertainty with the futures of Mitchell and Bickerstaff squarely in the spotlight.

Mitchell did everything for the Cavs in his second postseason for Cleveland. He averaged 29.6 points but didn’t play in either of the final two games.

The end of Mitchell’s tenure in Cleveland could potentially come in the same TD Garden arena where James played his last game with the Cavs before leaving for Miami in 2010.

Mitchell is eligible to sign a contract extension but has not given any indication he’s eager to stay or leave Cleveland.

Bickerstaff is completing his fourth full season as Cleveland’s coach. Including the 11 games he coached after taking over for John Beilein during the 2019-20 season, Bickerstaff is 170-159 with two playoff appearances.

Asked if he thought he would be coaching in Cleveland next season, Bickerstaff said, “No one’s told me I’m not. So I’ll keep showing up until they tell me not to.”

Much like they did in Game 4 without Mitchell, the Cavs used the 3-point line to keep pace with the Celtics, making 8 of 19 in the opening 24 minutes.

Cleveland started the second quarter by connecting on 4 of 5 attempts from beyond the arc to nudge ahead 46-40. The Cavs also got solid minutes off the bench from Morris, who scored 14 points in his first 12 minutes of action.

But Boston rallied and closed with an 18-6 run to take a 58-52 lead into halftime.

“It made us answer the bell," Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla said. "Guard your yard. The guys did it. It’s a credit to them.”

Horford said he’s most proud of how Tatum and Brown have grown following last season’s conference finals loss to Miami.

“I’m very proud of our guys continue to put work in. JT, JB, how they’ve continued to get better. How no matter what gets thrown at them, they way they’re criticized,” Horford said. “Our guys continue to work and they continue to think what’s best for our group.”

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA

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