BOSTON Someone is going to have to win in Boston to keep the Celtics from winning their 17th NBA title.
Cleveland hopes for one more chance.
Kevin Garnett had 26 points and 16 rebounds, Rajon Rondo added 20 points and 13 assists, and the Celtics beat the Cavaliers 96-89 on Wednesday night to move within a win of the Eastern Conference finals.
Paul Pierce scored 29 and helped shut down LeBron James for much of the second half to give Boston a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven conference semifinal. James scored 23 of his 35 points in the first half and was mostly quiet in the second before scoring six in the final 3:26 after Boston was well in the lead.
Game 6 is Friday night in Cleveland, with the deciding game in Boston on Sunday if necessary.
Cleveland cut an 88-77 lead to six points with two minutes left and made it 91-87 on two free throws by Delonte West with 46 seconds to play. But Garnett got the rebound of his own miss, and Paul Pierce hit five free throws in the last 16 seconds as the Celtics ran down the clock.
The Celtics have yet to win on the road in these playoffs, allowing the eight-seeded Atlanta Hawks to go the distance before advancing from the first round. But Boston, which had an NBA-best 66-16 record in the regular season, doesn't have to win on the road to win the title.
No team has ever won a title without winning an away game. In fact, Boston could be the first team to advance out of the second round without a road win.
Cleveland took a 43-29 lead in the second quarter thanks to eight straight points from James. But Rondo hit back-to-back 3-pointers as the Celtics scored 14 of the last 17 points in the first half, then took the lead with the first four points of the third quarter.
Garnett's steal on the first possession of the second half sent Ray Allen on a fast break for a long 2-pointer, then Rondo's steal and fast-break layup made it 47-46 for Boston's first lead of the game.
The Celtics made nine of their first 11 shots in the second half, scoring seven straight points to turn a one-point advantage into a 65-57 lead with three minutes left in the third. Rondo literally jumped out of his pants in the effort; his shorts slid down when he blocked West to protect a five-point lead with 4 minutes to play in the third.
James, who shot below 26 percent in the first four games, went 8-for-14 in the first half and seemed to snap out of his slump. Then he went cold again, making just one basket in the third, a baby hook with 45 seconds left in the quarter. He didn't have a rebound, either, despite playing all 12 minutes.
Cleveland missed 10 free throws in the second half.
James scored 11 in the first quarter as the Cavaliers opened an 18-9 lead, but the Celtics quickly cut it to three points. He scored 12 more in the second.
Then he finally missed one.
Rondo set up Garnett for a short jumper, then the Celtics point guard made consecutive 3-pointers to make it 43-37. Pierce hit a pair of free throws to cut Cleveland's lead to four points with 1:33 left.
Notes: West (eyes) and Ben Wallace (dizziness) left the court for the Celtics' introductions to avoid the smoke that accompanies the pregame fireworks. West said he went to an eye specialist after Thursday's shootaround. "It's hard to play this game with one eye unless you're a pirate," he said. ... The Celtics scored 12 points in the fourth quarter of Game 4 and 22 in the first 16 minutes of Game 5, giving them 34 points in a 28-minute span. ... Daniel Gibson went to the locker room in the third quarter with an unspecified injury. ... Celebrities in the crowd: Rob Lowe, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Louis C.K., Jonah Hill (Superbad), Donnie Wahlberg, JoJo Levesque and various New England Patriots.