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Are the Celtics really about to do this?

We have that and more in Thursday’s NBA newsletter.

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Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics - Game Five Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Boston Celtics are one win away from the 2018 NBA Finals, despite Gordon Hayward ending his season in the first game in October and Kyrie Irving missing the entire postseason. The Celtics beat the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5 on Wednesday, winning a 96-83 grindfest on the strength of defense. Boston can clinch and advance by winning in Cleveland on Friday or at home on Sunday, if necessary.

Each of the teams has looked far superior on its own home court, which makes Boston’s home court advantage loom large. Few expected the team to thrive in Irving’s absence because of the dearth of offensive playmaking. But defense has been Boston’s calling card and source of power all season. Replacing Irving with Terry Rozier does nothing to disturb that identity, and it turns out that Boston did have some suitable offensive playmakers in Al Horford, Rozier, Jayson Tatum, and even Marcus Smart. Boston manufactures buckets like few other high-level NBA teams, but because Cleveland’s defense is inconsistent and the Celtics’ defense is so incredible, it works.

Boston had one of those moral victories back in Game 4: they didn’t look intimidated by Cleveland’s strong defense of its home court. It paid off in Game 5, and it might mean a trip to the NBA Finals no one predicted. We’ll see Friday ... or Sunday. (This is going seven, isn’t it?)

Wednesday’s Score

Celtics 96, Cavaliers 83
Boston leads 3-2
Recaps: CelticsBlog | Fear The Sword

Thursday’s Schedule

Warriors at Rockets, 9 p.m. ET, TNT
Series tied 2-2

WNBA Schedule: Sparks vs. Sun (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) is a nice national TV lead-in before Warriors-Rockets.

A Moment of Silence

Bo Churney was a kind, smart, funny Hawks blogger who was really well-liked in NBA Twitter circles. He took his life this week. The world is worse for the loss.

Friends of Bo started a fundraiser benefitting Lost N Found Youth, which serves at-risk and homeless LGBTQ youth in Atlanta. If you can, a donation would be appreciated.

You are not alone. Help is always available. 1-800-273-8255.

You are NOT alone.

Links Galore

The video of Sterling Brown being electroshocked by Milwaukee police over a parking violation has been released. The police chief released a statement apologizing for the escalation. Brown and, notably, the Bucks franchise issued statements excoriating the officers involved. The chief said officers had been disciplined, but doesn’t reveal anything more about that. This is not, and should not be, over. Here’s more from Michael McCann on Brown’s legal options.

Jayson Tatum is a rookie in name only. Here’s Tim Cato on Tatum’s star turn.

Three things we learned from the Celtics’ win.

Read Zito Madu’s lovely celebration of the old, slow, genius Kyle Korver.

Diana Taurasi isn’t done yet.

Aaron Dodson with a really fun look back at the LeBron James Sneaker Wars of 2003.

The seven best things from the WNBA this week.

Would you believe that the FBI investigation into college basketball has taken yet another bizarre twist, one that could derail the whole thing?

In defense of traditional NBA centers.

Congratulations to Dikembe Mutombo for winning the Sager Strong Award for his humanitarian work in Congo.

David Aldridge on how the NBA is preparing for legal sports betting.

The Kobe Detail curse is super real, though LeBron and now Tatum have escaped it after two games each. So Steph Curry could be clear of it in Game 6 at home.

Breaking down Houston’s Game 4 defense. Breaking down Golden State’s fourth quarter offense.

The Sparks’ Essence Carson, an 11-year WNBA vet, is a classically trained musician who worked a record company internship and is releasing her own work now. How cool.

Credit Daryl Morey and the Rockets for making a Warriors series competitive, no matter what happens next.

And finally: Brian Windhorst on the death of Kyle Korver’s brother, and what it means to grieve with spotlights on you.

Be excellent to each other.