Did Celtics Push Donovan Mitchell To Grow ‘Frustrated’ With Cavs?

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The Cleveland Cavaliers entered a do-or-die Game 5 against the Boston Celtics missing three of their premier players, and it cost them the ultimate price — the end of their season — on Wednesday night at TD Garden.

Despite a valiant, competitive effort in Game 4, the Cavaliers were, again, thrown to compete without star Donovan Mitchell, rebounding leader Jarrett Allen, and sixth man Caris LeVert. Mitchell’s Eastern Conference semifinal series-leading 31.7 points kept Cleveland competitive in Game 2, but as the team’s unlikely bid began to collapse, apparently so did the 27-year-old’s faith in the locker room.

“(Mitchell) grew frustrated with some teammates’ lack of maturity, focus, playoff-level readiness, and a willingness to listen,” according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com.

Even despite getting a playoff-minded Mitchell to score from nearly anywhere on the floor, and with confidence, Cleveland entered a losing second-round situation. Evan Mobley, while impressive for the most part, wasn’t enough to fill Allen’s rebounding void, nor was he capable of punishing Boston for its Kristaps Porzingis absence. For the Cavaliers to compete legitimately for a conference finals spot, it required the Celtics to play below their standard, thus, opening the window for opportunity.

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Al Horford prevented that better than anyone else in Game 5, turning back the clock with a 22-point, 15-rebound double-double to catch Cleveland by surprise. Horford had previously struggled, shooting a combined 3-for-17 from 3-point range in Games 2, 3, and 4, but saved a vintage performance for the best moment. The 37-year-old shot 8-for-15, drained six threes and uplifted Boston’s home crowd after a life-less 28-28 first quarter.

Slowly, it became increasingly difficult for Cleveland to claw its way back and push for a Game 6.

Marcus Morris Sr., an ex-Celtics forward of two seasons, finished runner-up for the surprise unsung hero of the night, pitching in with 25 bench points — marking the most the 13-year veteran scored all year (17). He was engaged, trash-talked with Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and prevented Cleveland from being dispatched to the offseason in blowout fashion.

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“They gave it everything they had,” Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said after Cleveland’s 113-98 loss, per team-provided video. “They understood the moment, the amount of minutes they were going to have to play and they left it all out there. We just got beat by a team that had to play really well. They had guys step up, make huge plays, make big shots for them, but I thought our guys did a heck of a job competing.”

Cleveland certainly fell short in a handful of areas, most notably in its ineffective help defense in guarding Boston’s pick-and-roll, but it was still generally sustainable. The Cavaliers were competitive, didn’t go down without a fight, and avoided allowing the Celtics starters to reward themselves with an early clock-out in the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t a moral victory, but it also wasn’t a discouraging defeat, either.

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