Celtics ‘Grateful’ For ‘Gift’ Of Early Playoff Series End Vs. Cavaliers

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BOSTON — The Celtics haven’t succumbed to their old postseason habits yet, and it’s paid off, giving the team a third consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference finals with plenty of time to rest this go-around.

In the first round, Boston eliminated Miami in five games, ending the series with three consecutive wins over the Heat. Then in the semifinals against the Cavaliers, it was déjà vu for the Celtics as a Game 2 loss prompted the urgent response of three straight victories to eliminate Cleveland with a 113-98 victory in Game 5 on Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Carrying a now-72-20 combined record dating back to the start of the regular season, Boston’s avoid breaking one trend: losing more than twice consecutively, and it’s triggered a timely postseason response that hasn’t failed the Celtics so far.

“It’s important to take advantage of the opportunities that you have,” Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla said. “It’s a gift that we got the rest now because we took advantage of the opportunity that we had. So now we can be grateful for that rest, but you don’t know. Sometimes rest isn’t good for you. Sometimes it is, but we’ll at least take tomorrow off.”

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With no Donovan Mitchell, Jarrett Allen, or Caris LeVert available for the Cavaliers in Game 5, the Celtics continued their inadvertent streak of good postseason fortune. All worries regarding Mitchell’s series-leading 31.7 points per game went out the window, as did Cleveland’s season because instead of allowing the shorthanded Cavaliers to stun the league and extend the series to a Game 6, the Celtics elected to treat their home crowd and punish the “We want Boston” chanters once again.

In recent seasons, that wasn’t Boston’s identity.

Last year, the Celtics collided with favorable playoff matchups, facing the Hawks, Sixers, and Heat, playing a Game 6 twice, and ending their season with an embarrassing Game 7 loss to Miami. There wasn’t any urgency, little accountability, and a widespread feeling of content that poisoned Boston’s chances of advancing to the NBA Finals.

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“We all wanted this so bad, and I’m just happy we were able to take advantage of this,” Al Horford said. “In the past, we’ve been in this position and haven’t been able to close things and this is a sign of growth for our group. So I’m very proud of that.”

As Kristaps Porzingis supported his Boston teammates from the bench for a seventh straight playoff game, Horford, once again, took a veteran leader’s step forward. The 37-year-old, who’s undergone six postseason hunts in Boston, recorded a 22-point, 15-rebound double-double, revitalizing the home crowd by engaging in hustle play after hustle play.

“Our guys continue to work and they continue to think (about) what’s best for our group,” Horford said. “And this year that’s been very obvious. Guys are trying to play the right way, they’re sacrificing for the team — that’s been a theme for us all year. And I’m just very proud of where we’re at right now, at this point, understanding that there’s a lot of work to do ahead.”

Since the Celtics handled Cleveland in five games, they’ll await the winner of the Knicks-Pacers semifinal series — New York leads Indiana, 3-2 — before returning to action, four wins shy of an NBA Finals appearance.

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