How Celtics Would Benefit Most From Closing Out Cavs in Game 5

The Boston Celtics have the Cleveland Cavaliers on the brink of elimination in Game 5
Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Three
Boston Celtics v Cleveland Cavaliers - Game Three / Jason Miller/GettyImages

The Boston Celtics, who pushed the Cleveland Cavaliers to the brink of elimination following their 109-102 victory in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, have an opportunity to not only close out the series on Wednesday night but could also benefit from the extended rest that comes with it.

The Celtics are one win away from making their fourth Eastern Conference Finals appearance in five years. And starting center Kristaps Porzingis, who was last seen working out at the team's morning shootaround before Game 4, continues recovering from a right soleus strain.

On Tuesday, the New York Knicks beat the Indiana Pacers 121-91 in Game 5. Pushing the Pacers to the brink, the Knicks have a 3-2 lead in their Eastern Conference semifinal series. If Boston wins its Game 5 matchup and avoids heading back to Cleveland for a potential Game 6, the Celtics would have additional off days while waiting to face the winner between the Knicks and Pacers.

"For tonight, obviously the focus is to come out, and continue to play the way we've been playing defensively, make sure that we set the tone, and make sure that all we're thinking about is tonight's game," Al Horford said after team shootaround on Wednesday, per CLNS Media. "Our approach this postseason has been good because we focus game-to-game, and it's no different tonight."

Al Horford

Horford has been starting in place of Porzingis since Game 4 of Boston's opening-round series against the Miami Heat. In Games 4 and 5, he combined for 15 points and 14 rebounds, solid production for the veteran big on short-term rest.

However, his shooting numbers have taken a significant dip of late against Cleveland, a sign that the every-other-day schedule of the semifinal series could be getting to the team's elderly statesman. He finished Game 3 with two points on 1-for-7 shooting, went 3-for-9 (six points) in his latest outing, and missed ten consecutive threes throughout that two-game stretch.

Given extended playing time in the wake of Porzingis' injury, Luke Kornet has made the most of his opportunities throughout the series, including a nine-point, six-rebound performance in Game 4 while averaging 5.0 rebounds and 1.0 blocks in 15.0 minutes throughout Boston's best-of-7.

"Great energy. I'm very happy for Luke (Kornet)," Horford said when asked about guys stepping up in Porzingis' absence. "He's really seizing this opportunity, and when he comes into the game, the game's changing right away. He's just bringing a lot of energy, doing whatever he needs to do on the floor. He's competing at a very high level. So, I've been very impressed with him, and his poise. Being in the playoffs is different than the regular season, and he's doing a great job."

Al Horford

Game 5 tips off at 7 p.m. EST at TD Garden on Wednesday. DraftKings Sportsbook has the Celtics as heavy 16-point favorites.

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