NBA playoffs: Celtics put away Cavaliers to reach 3rd straight Eastern Conference finals

The Boston Celtics have reached their third straight Eastern Conference finals, where an increase in degree of difficulty almost certainly awaits.

The owners of the NBA's best record in the regular season put away the Cleveland Cavaliers with a 113-98 win on Wednesday, ending their series in five games. They will advance to face either the New York Knicks or the Indiana Pacers for a trip to the NBA Finals.

It's a familiar sight in the East, where the Celtics have reached the conference finals six times in eight years. Of course, they're still waiting for their first title in that span.

The Cavaliers entered Wednesday in a dire situation, with All-Star guard Donovan Mitchell, All-Star center Jarrett Allen and veteran Caris LeVert all ruled out for Game 5. It wasn't the first time the Celtics faced a short-handed opponent in this playoffs, as they also beat the Miami Heat sans Jimmy Butler in the first round.

Obviously, the Celtics can't be faulted for defeating teams with injuries. And the Celtics are short-handed themselves with Kristaps Porzingis still sidelined with a calf strain. The trend just can't be forgotten while sizing up the Celtics' chances in the next round.

The remaining Cleveland players did an admirable job of staying competitive in hostile territory, keeping the lead in the low single digits until early in the fourth quarter. It wasn't an easy game for Boston, which finally pulled things together with a 13-2 lead to push the game out of reach.

Jayson Tatum had another great game with 25 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, but the biggest difference might have lied in Al Horford, starting in Porzingis' absence. The oldest player on the floor had 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting, 15 rebounds and five assists in 35 minutes.

That stat line means Horford joins Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and LeBron James as the only players to post at least 20 points, 15 rebounds and five assists in a playoff game at 37 years old or older, per The Athletic's Jared Weiss.

In Mitchell's absence, the Cavaliers leaned on the young Evan Mobley, who posted 31 points on 14-of-23 shooting with seven rebounds and four assists. Marcus Morris, acquired basically for free at midseason, was also huge, posting 25 points off the bench on 10-of-13 shooting.