- Cleveland beats Atlanta 118-88 in Eastern Conference finals
- James will be making fifth straight NBA Finals appearance
LeBron James led the Cleveland Cavaliers back to within four wins of a National Basketball Association title, nearly a decade after guiding the franchise to its first NBA Finals appearance.
James had 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists Tuesday night as the host Cavaliers completed a four-game sweep of the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals with a 118-88 victory. It is the fifth straight season that James has helped his team to the NBA Finals, after getting there in all four of his seasons with the Miami Heat.
The Cavaliers will play either the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals starting June 4. The Warriors, who won an NBA-high 67 games this season, hold a 3-1 series lead with Game 5 Wednesday in Oakland.
“We’re just happy we could win, Atlanta’s a tough team and had a really good season,” Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova said in a televised interview.
An Akron native, James in July announced his decision to return to Cleveland in an essay on Sports Illustrated’s website, citing his pride in the region and desire to help it rebound from tough financial times. It was a stark contrast to his decision four years earlier to leave the team, which he announced in a 75-minute televised special on ESPN.
Tuesday’s win came two days after James recorded the 12th playoff triple-double of his career, and first of the 2015 postseason. The four-time NBA Most Valuable Player entered the game with team highs in points (27.9), rebounds (10.5), assists (8.4) and steals (1.8) per game during the playoffs.
The delay before the start of the finals -- the Cavaliers will have a full week off -- should benefit Cleveland. Point guard Kyrie Irving missed Games 2 and 3 of the Atlanta series with an injured left knee, placing more of the load on James, who cramped at the end of Game 3.
The Cavaliers selected James with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. Cleveland’s first Finals appearance came in 2007, when James and the Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
The Hawks went 60-22 this season for the best record in the Eastern Conference.
“I think I would like to talk about our season tomorrow or whenever it’s appropriate,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer, who was selected as NBA coach of the year, said in a news conference. “Obviously it was a great season.”