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LeBron James embraces ‘tough and determined’ Isaiah Thomas after Game 5: ‘I was happy to see him’ 05.26.17 at 2:24 am ET
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May 25, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) and Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) meet after game five of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James and Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas meet after game five of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at the TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

In the moments after becoming the NBA’s all-time leading playoff scorer in a Game 5 rout of the Celtics and heading to the NBA Finals for a seventh straight year, LeBron James began his press conference Thursday night talking about his friend, Isaiah Thomas.

The superstar came up to Thomas after the game on the court and gave him an embrace. After the game, he explained why.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen him since he didn’t return for the second half in Game 2,” James said of Thomas’ season-ending hip injury. “Throughout the series we didn’t get an opportunity to actually have that moment. I know I said a few things in the media about the situation he was going through, but I was happy to see him. Just give him a big hug from myself and my family.

“Just how tough and determined the guy is, and to be able to go through the situation he was going through on a day-to-day basis, still being focused and maintaining his focus for the team — family is everything, and basketball comes second after family, and to see him perform the way he was performing throughout the playoffs under the circumstances was a treat to watch. A lot more words were said, but that’s the gist of it.”

“They were playing basketball at such a high level,” Kyrie Irving added. “And honestly, we didn’t want IT to go down. But the way that guy has played, I mean, the way he was playing, he’s deserving of all the credit that he’s gotten.”

James and Irving were clearly impressed by how Thomas dealt with the death of his sister, Chyna, on the eve of the playoffs on April 15. Then, in Game 1 of the second round against Washington, he broke three front teeth in his mouth before seeing his season end with a hip injury sustained in Game 6 against the Wizards.

James was asked, given how far the Celtics made it this season and that they also own the No. 1 pick, if he thinks it’s likely he’ll see them again next season deep in the playoffs.

“I don’t know. That’s a question that none of us can answer in here. They have a great team right now,” James said. “IT is going to come back healthy. They have the No. 1 pick; we’ll see what they do with that. But I can’t answer that question and know if we’re going to play them in the Eastern Conference finals next year. I have no idea.”

Read More: 2017 Eastern Conference finals, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Isaiah Thomas
Kyrie Irving, LeBron James lead rout in elimination of Celtics, set up Finals rematch with Warriors 05.25.17 at 10:54 pm ET
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May 25, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) dribbles the ball around Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during the second quarter of game five of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Bradley and the Celtics were overwhelmed by LeBron James and the Cavaliers in Game 5 of the Eastern finals Thursday at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

There would be no magical comeback on this night. There would be no slow start from LeBron James or Kyrie Irving. There would be only complete domination from start to finish by the defending NBA champions and an end to the Celtics upstart playoff run. 

Kyrie Irving opened the third quarter with three bullseyes from beyond the arc as part of his 24-point performance while James added 35 points, eight rebounds and eight assists to lead the Cavaliers past the Celtics, 135-102, Thursday night at TD Garden in Game 5 of the Eastern finals. The Cavaliers win the series, 4-1, and advance to meet the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals starting June 1 in Oakland. It is the first time in NBA history that two teams will meet for three straight seasons. The two rivals have split the previous two encounters. 

“I think as a coach, you always believe you can win the next game because you
believe you can win the next possession. I thought we played a little too haphazard tonight. I didn’t think it was a lack of effort at the beginning, but our offensive mistakes led to bad defense, and it just kind of snowballed on us,” Brad Stevens said.

“It’s a good step forward as a season as a whole, but I leave with a little bit of a taste in your mouth — like not playing as well here, and man, you want to play well here because there is really no place like TD Garden in Boston. When the fans at the end of the game were — man, it’s just amazing. And so, as I told our guys, we made a lot of great strides, but this pain is part of the path to what we ultimately want to be.”

The Celtics were outscored by 13, 44 and 33 points in the most lopsided series of home losses in the Celtics playoff history. 

The start of the game was a continuation of the 44-point destruction in the last game played in Boston. For the third time in five games, Kevin Love opened the contest with a three. Marcus Smart responded to tied the game at 3. It would be the only time Boston would be tied the rest of the night. Love’s turnaround hook shot with 93 seconds into the game gave Cleveland the lead for good, 5-3.  

The Celtics looked horrid while the Cavaliers looked like a team that wanted no part of a Game 6 back in Cleveland. 

Kelly Olynyk’s airball on a three led to a J.R. Smith leak out, dunk and timeout from Brad Stevens. Four minutes later, LeBron James put a move on Al Horford and drove to the basket for a dunk, triggering the second timeout of the quarter from Stevens. It was 28-12 and the rout was in full throttle. 

In between the Olynyk airball and the LeBron dunk, the Celtics had three turnovers, a missed Avery Bradley layup and blocks from James and Tristan Thompson.

“We’re definitely disappointed,” Avery Bradley said. “I feel like if we weren’t, there would be a problem. We all feel like we put ourselves in a great position to go further in the season, especially the last game. We were in a good place to be able to win a second game in a row, but it’s been unfortunate for us. The injuries, and not only that, but us not being able to finish games the way we wanted to. We’ve been playing against a very good team, all credit to those guys, but we feel like we should be here and we feel like we should be a championship-contending team.

“The great thing about this is the experience. We were able to go to the Eastern Conference Finals, learn a lot about being in this position, and I feel like it’s going to help us for next year.”

Down 19-10 after two free throws from Thompson, the crowd that battled through horrific traffic outside began chanting “Let’s Go Celtics”. 

A three-point play from Kyrie Irving with 2:45 left, the Celtics trailed 37-16, bringing the score to 167-102 Cleveland in the last five quarters of basketball in Boston going back to the start of Game 2. 

The Celtics made a mini-run to cut the lead to 37-22. But James hit a 19-foot fallaway as the shot clock was expiring and Irving drained a three for a 43-23 Cleveland advantage. The Celtics closed it to 43-27 at the end of the first quarter. Cleveland’s 43 points fell just two shy of the all-time NBA playoff record for most points in an opening period, set in 1985 by the Lakers and matched by three others since.

(For a full box score, click here).

The second quarter started off on a promising note as the Celtics cut the lead to 13 on a Jae Crowder three-point play. But the Cavaliers responded with a 16-6 run to build a 23-point lead at 59-36. The half again appeared to end on a positive note for the Celtics as Avery Bradley scored six straight points to cut the lead to 73-57.

But the Cavaliers scored a basket on a goaltending call on Al Horford that caused Brad Stevens to flail angrily on the sidelines. The Cavs took a 75-57 lead to the locker room at the half. The 75 points marked a franchise playoff record for the Cavs while the 75 points were the most in a playoff game since May 9, 2003 when the Mavericks scored 83 against Sacramento in Game 2 of the Western semifinals.

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Read More: 2017 Eastern Conference finals, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Kyrie Irving
Kyrie Irving (42 points) saves Cavaliers, Celtics can’t hold 16-point lead 05.23.17 at 10:54 pm ET
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May 23, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving (2) drives to the basket in the first quarter against the Boston Celtics in game four of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Kyrie Irving drives to the basket against the Celtics in Game 4 of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. (David Richard/USA Today Sports)

Kyrie Irving saved LeBron James, Ty Lue and the city of Cleveland from a total state of panic Tuesday night. 

With James saddled with four first-half fouls for the first time in his career and the Cavaliers staring a second straight shocking home loss to the Celtics in the face, Irving took over with 21 of his playoff career-high 42 points in an amazing third-quarter display to lead the Cavaliers to a 112-99 win in Game 4 at Quicken Loans Arena. 

The Celtics, who led by as many as 16 in the first half before a shell-shocked crowd, will try to stave off elimination Thursday night in Game 5 of the Eastern finals at TD Garden. 

“That stings when you can’t pull those out,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “We put together a lot of good basketball here. We didn’t put enough of it together tonight to win the game.”

Irving, on the other hand, put forward his best career postseason performance when his team desperately needed it. And on top of it all, Irving played the entire fourth quarter with a sprained left ankle when he stepped on Terry Rozier on a drive to the basket. 

“In the back of my mind, I’m saying to myself, ‘They cannot tie up this series.'” Irving said. “This Celtics team is not going to give up”

James, who was scoreless in the fourth quarter Sunday in Game 3, had 15 of his 34 points in the final period.

The Cavs came out and turned again to Kevin Love, who hit the game’s first basket, a three. Cleveland scored the game’s first five points. 

Then the Celtics took over, scoring 11 straight points and to take all the energy out of QuickenLoans Arena. 

LeBron James continued his disengaged play of Sunday night, settling for threes and missing them. Love did find James with his trademark length-of-the-court pass and James delivered with a one-handed jam to cut Boston’s lead to 18-13. 

The only bit of troubling news in the first quarter for the Celtics were the two fouls apiece called on Jae Crowder and Al Horford. Crowder stayed in the game to guard LeBron. 

The Celtics led 29-19 after one quarter.  

(For a complete box score, click here.)

The Cavaliers showed a little spark with a transition-inspired rally. James started to get to the basket for layups. 

Momentum continued to roll in the Celtics’ favor in the second quarter, as they built their lead up to 49-33 on threes from Terry Rozier and Avery Bradley. At that precise moment, the Celtics had outscored the Cavs, 105-64, since trailing 77-56 midway through the third quarter of Game 3. 

But without question, the biggest storyline was the foul trouble of LeBron James. After getting called for a highly questionable third personal foul on a touch foul of Marcus Smart shooting a three with 8:55 left in the second quarter. But Ty Lue decided to keep him in the game. 

That move backfired when James bowled over Rozier in the lane for his fourth foul with 6:46 left in the second quarter and the Celtics up, 43-33. James, with four first-half fouls for the first time in his career, sat for the remainder of the half. Down 49-33, it was Irving to the rescue, who scored the next 10 points in a 10-2 Cleveland run. 

The Cavs had the lead down to six before the Celtics finished the half on a 6-2 spurt for a 57-47 advantage. Without Isaiah Thomas for a second straight game, ball movement for the Celtics was outstanding. In the first half, the Celtics had 17 assists on 21 field goals.

“I thought we played as well as maybe we have the entire playoffs during the first half,” Stevens said.

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Read More: 2017 Eastern Conference finals, 2017 NBA Playoffs, Al Horford, Avery Bradley
Avery Bradley hits 3 to shock Cavaliers at buzzer in Game 3, Marcus Smart huge 05.21.17 at 11:07 pm ET
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May 21, 2017; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) shoots over the defense of  Cleveland Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson (13) during the first half in game three of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Smart shoots over the defense of Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson during the first half in Game 3 of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics pulled off a miracle Sunday night. 

Avery Bradley’s 3-point shot spun on the back on the rim and fell through with 0.1 seconds left to lift the Celtics to a shocking 111-108 win over the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.

The win narrows Cleveland’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-7 series and snaps Cleveland’s 13-game record-tying playoff win streak.  

Playing without Isaiah Thomas, out for the rest of the playoffs with a right hip injury (and reportedly a right hip labrum tear that could require surgery), the Celtics overcame a 21-point second-half deficit. 

Marcus Smart finished with 27 points on 7-of-10 3-point shooting. Game 4 will be Tuesday night in Cleveland before the series moves back to Boston for Game 5 Thursday.

“When it’s a big moment, you know that kid is going to rise to the occasion. He always has,” Brad Stevens said of Smart. 

Just 48 hours after suffering the most embarrassing loss in their playoff history, the Celtics staged arguably the most unlikely playoff win ever. 

“I really felt like in first half we played way better than the score.” Stevens said of his team’s 66-50 deficit. “I was hoping law of averages would kick in at some point. Some of those shots were just incredible. Started slow in third quarter. Our guys were better towards end of third, goes back and forth and we were lucky to win.”

The Celtics were down 77-56 before starting their epic comeback. LeBron James finished just 4-of-13 and 11 points in 45 minutes. The Cavaliers were just 2-for-17 in the second half. 

Using a scorching first-half display from Kevin Love and another powerful effort from Tristan Thompson, the Cavaliers seemed on their way to setting a new NBA playoff standard with their 14th consecutive postseason win while pulling within one game of the NBA finals for a third straight season and putting LeBron James in the finals for a seventh straight season. 

The Celtics went with a starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson. Midway through the first quarter, Johnson had to go to the locker room with team doctor Brian McKeon after injuring his shoulder. Johnson would return to action in the second quarter.

The Cavaliers came out on fire from deep, hitting nine threes in the first quarter, a NBA playoff high this season for a quarter. Kevin Love was a one-man wrecking crew, draining five of his seven 3-point attempts, falling one shy of the NBA playoff mark for a single quarter set by Boston’s Antoine Walker in 2002 in the Game 3 against Philadelphia. 

Overall, the Cavaliers hit 9-of-13 from deep to take a 35-24 lead after the first quarter. The Cavaliers were 11-0f-17 from the field in the first quarter and the nine threes were the most in the playoffs since Boston drilled nine against Philadelphia in the decisive Game 5 33-point blowout on May 3, 2002. 

Down 44-29, the Celtics used a 7-0 run to cut the lead down to eight. 

(For a full box score, click here.)

Love continued to kill the Celtics in the second, hitting two more threes and then with a minute to go, he took a handoff from J.R. Smith under the Cavs basket and executed a perfect length-of-the-court chest pass that dropped into the hands of LeBron James for a layup. 

On the next possession, J.R. Smith hit an off-balance 3-pointer to give the Cavaliers their biggest lead at 66-48. There was simply not much the Celtics could do but shrug. The Cavaliers made exactly 60 percent of their shots (21-of-35) in the opening half. Love finished the first half making 7-of-10 from 3-point range and 22 points. James had just eight points and the Cavaliers still led, 66-50, at the half. 

It was the most-competitive half of the series to this point in the series. The Cavaliers led by 22 points in at the half of Game 1 and 41 points in Game 2. 

The Cavaliers quickly built their lead up to 20 points in the first two minutes of the third quarter before getting a bit sloppy. LeBron James had a layup at the rim and gave it up for a bounce pass in the paint for Tristan Thompson. It resulted in a turnover. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Isaiah Thomas, Kevin Love
LeBron James, Kevin Love throttle the Celtics in Game 1; Tristan Thompson provides muscle 05.17.17 at 11:01 pm ET
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May 17, 2017; Boston, MA, USA;  Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) during the first quarter in game one of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

LeBron James drives against Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown during the first quarter in game one of the Eastern conference finals of the NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA Today Sports)

LeBron James and the Cavaliers were not about add to the Celtics’ fairytale week.

In a display becoming of a defending champion, the Cavaliers, coming off a nine-day hiatus, came to Boston and put a stranglehold on the team that was just 48 hours removed from an electrifying and draining seven-game victory over the Washington Wizards and a day from winning the NBA Draft lottery for the first time in franchise history.

James scored 23 of his 38 points in the first half while Kevin Love added 32 points as the Cavaliers routed the Celtics, 117-104, in Game 1 of the Eastern finals Wednesday night at TD Garden. Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley finished with 21 apiece to lead the Celtics, who will try somehow to regroup for Game 2 Friday night at the Garden before the series shifts to Cleveland for Games 3 and 4 Sunday and Tuesday. 

“With LeBron playing at this level, other guys just have to be solid and contribute,” Cavaliers coach Ty Lue said. 

“He’s better than when I got in the league, a lot better,” Brad Stevens said. “He’s a good player, a great player. I didn’t think he could get any better.”

The Celtics tried many defensive options on James and Love, with little success all night. 

“It’s easier said than done but we have to figure out our best avenue quickly,” Stevens said of the challenge of defending James and Love when they’re on the court together. “Doubling is really scary against these guys but it may be necessary.”

The win was Cleveland’s 12th straight in the postseason, dating back to their comeback against the Warriors in the 2016 Finals. They are a perfect 9-0 in the playoffs while the Warriors are one better at 10-0 this postseason. 

The game started out as the Celtics worst nightmare. 

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Read More: 2017 Eastern Conference finals, 2017 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers
Kelly Olynyk, Jaylen Brown help Isaiah Thomas, Celtics vanquish Wizards in electric Game 7, move onto LeBron James 05.15.17 at 10:42 pm ET
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May 15, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) shoots the ball over Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) during the first half in game seven of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas shoots the ball over Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal in a tense Game 7 at TD Garden Monday night. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bring on LeBron.

In a series filled with dramatic swings in momentum and emotion, the Celtics outlasted the Wizards, 115-105, Monday night in a tense Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at TD Garden. 

“It was ridiculous, I don’t think this building reached that level, since I’ve been here at least,” Brad Stevens said of the TD Garden crowd. 

“It’s good to be able to validate the progress but it’s about the next game,” Stevens said of reaching the Eastern finals in his fourth season. 

Kelly Olynyk put up a playoff career high of 26 points off the bench – including 14 in an amazing fourth-quarter display – while Isaiah Thomas was his usual electric self with 29 points as the Celtics can now get ready for Game 1 of the Eastern finals against the defending champion Cavaliers Wednesday night in Boston. 

“Kelly was the MVP tonight,” Thomas said. 

“They’re playing better than last year, at least when I watch them,” Stevens said of the Cavaliers. “I think they’re playing better than any of the four times we played them, including the last time when they smashed us.”

The heroics of Olynyk and Thomas offset a playoff career-best 38 points from Bradley Beal in a losing cause. 

The reason the Celtics advanced was simple: They had more in reserve. Specifically, their bench gave them a boost that the Wizards just didn’t enjoy. 

The group of Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk gave the Celtics the luxury to rest the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Al Horford. 

When when Thomas and Horford were on the court in the fourth quarter, they put away Washington in dramatic fashion. Thomas and Horford dominated. John Wall looked like a superstar entirely out of gas. Wall couldn’t do it all and Washington’s awful bench was his and the team’s ultimate undoing. 

The Celtics’ bench outscored Washington’s reserves, 48-5. 

For the Wizards, their Eastern finals drought continues. They haven’t been to the NBA final four since 1979 when they beat the San Antonio Spurs to advance to the NBA finals against Seattle. The home team won all 11 meetings this season. 

The Celtics advance to the Eastern finals for the first time since 2012, when they also faced LeBron James and fell in a seven-game thriller to the Miami Heat. The Celtics continued their dominance of the Wizards in Boston, beating Washington for the ninth straight time, dating to 2014. 

With an electric Game 7 atmosphere not seen in TD Garden for a Celtics game since beating the 76ers in 2012, the Celtics took advantage of the thunderous crowd. 

Washington missed five of their first six shots while the Celtics hit three of their first six, including a wing three that ignited the crowd and caused Scott Brooks to call his first time out. 

Otto Porter’s put back with seven minutes left ended Boston’s 7-0 run that helped the Celtics to a 10-2 lead. That started a run for the Wizards, which included Amir Johnson picking up his second foul. Another Achilles heel of the Celtics revealed itself in the first seven minutes, as four turnovers led to seven Wizards points. 

(For a complete boxscore, click here.) 

With the game tied at 17, rookie Jaylen Brown came off the bench to spark a 7-0, including a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws. The Wizards again responded with a run that featured Amir Johnson picking up his third foul with a minute left in the opening quarter. The Celtics picked up some momentum when Kelly Olynyk drove to the basket for a layup and was fouled with 5.7 seconds left. Olynyk made the free throw and the Celtics took a 27-23 lead into the second period. 

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Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Game 7
John Wall lifts Wizards over Celtics with dramatic 3 to force Game 7, takes shot at Celtics postgame 05.12.17 at 10:51 pm ET
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May 12, 2017; Washington, DC, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) is fouled while dribbling the ball by Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (13) in the first quarter in game six of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Verizon Center. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas is fouled while dribbling the ball by Washington Wizards center Marcin Gortat (13) in the first quarter in game six of the second round of the 2017 NBA Playoffs at Verizon Center. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)

So close. But still so far. 

John Wall’s rainbow from 26 feet over Avery Bradley fell through the basket with 3.5 seconds left to give the Wizards a 92-91 win over the stunned Celtics in Game 6 Friday night at the Verizon Center. 

The prayer of a three sets up a Game 7 Monday night at TD Garden as the Wizards become the first home team to win an elimination on their home court in 11 tries this postseason. 

Isaiah Thomas’ desperation three at the buzzer clanged off the rim to set up the second Game 7 of these NBA playoffs. 

Al Horford’s bad angle bank shot with 7.7 seconds broke a tie and appeared to have sent the Celtics to the Eastern finals against LeBron for the first time since 2012. But instead, a winner-take-all Game 7 will decide matters in the Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Wall was ice-cold for the first three quarters before heating up when it mattered most. He and Isaiah Thomas reprised their Game 2 battle with each taking turns making big shots down the stretch. Thomas and Wall each had 10 points in the fourth quarter. But the difference might have been Beal, who scored 13 of his game-high 33 in the final period. 

The Celtics came dressed to kill in all black wardrobes on their way to the locker room, something not unnoticed by Wall, as he spoke to ESPN’s Lisa Salters moments after the game-winning shot. 

“I ain’t going home. Don’t come to my city, wearing all black, talking about a funeral,” Wall said. “We worked too hard for this. All we ask for is a Game 7, 50-50.” 

“Great shot by a great player,” Brad Stevens said of the Wall game-winner. “We’re going to guard it as hard as we can. We’re going to shake his hand and move on.” 

The Celtics were led by Thomas and Bradley, each pouring in 27 while Horford had 20. In addition to Beal’s 33, Wall scored 26 for the Wizards, who are now one win from their first Eastern finals appearance since 1979. 

Despite shooting just 4-for-17 in the first quarter and getting manhandled in the paint, the Celtics were able to stay close, trailing just 22-17 heading into the second quarter. 

Down 26-19 in the second quarter, the Celtics scored the next seven points, capped by an Avery Bradley three. 

(Click here for a complete box score of Game 6)

The Celtics caught another big break when Wizards big man Marcin Gortat picked up his third personal foul with 7:27 left in the first half. 

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Read More: 2017 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Bradley Beal, Isaiah Thomas
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