LeBron James advanced to his fifth straight NBA finals, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 118-88 rout of the Atlanta Hawks and a sweep of the Eastern Conference finals.
Once again James carried the Cavaliers on his back, finishing with 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and then sitting on the bench and playing cheerleader for much of the final quarter of Tuesday’s contest.
“We worked our tails off all season to get to this point,” James said. “We have everything it takes to win. I have been there. We have grit, determination and a willingness to want to be great.”
It was an impressive 4-0 series sweep for the Cavaliers and their title-starved Cleveland fans.
Cleveland advanced to its first NBA finals since James led a rough and tumble group there in 2007, when they were swept by the mighty San Antonio Spurs. The city hasn’t celebrated a major sports title since the Cleveland Browns won the National Football League championship in 1964.
The Cavaliers franchise has never won an NBA title.
– ‘Unfinished business’ –
“I’m a guy who believes in unfinished business,” James said.
Kyrie Irving returned for game four in front of a crowd of 20,500 at Quicken Loans Arena following a two-game absence due to a knee injury. He tallied 16 points and five assists in 22 minutes.
Cleveland will face either the Golden State Warriors or the Houston Rockets in the championship showdown. Golden State leads that series 3-1.
“It hasn’t always been easy the last 51 years, waiting,” first-year Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. “We know the people are behind us and that’s part of our motivation.”
Four-time MVP James has made it to the finals five straight years with two different teams. He has been in the last four finals with the Miami Heat before deciding to return to his hometown Cavaliers at the beginning of the season.
The days of Cleveland fans burning James’ jersey following his departure to the Heat where he claimed two NBA titles are now a distant memory.
James didn’t make any promises when he returned to his home state in July following that messy divorce from the Cavaliers.
“LeBron took a courageous decision to come back,” said Blatt said of James. “All of this is where his heart and family is and now we are all part of that family. He wants to lead us and we want to keep going.”
James battled through leg cramps late in game three but stayed in the tilt which the Cavaliers won 114-111 in overtime.
The sweep allows the Cavs to rest eight days until the finals begin next Thursday.
Not only will James get to heal some sore muscles but it is also important for Irving to get some recovery time, said Blatt.
“He did fabulously, played beautifully, he moved well,” Blatt said. “He wanted so much to be with his guys and to contribute.”
“We wanted to have this break to get him well,” Blatt said.
Irving scored his first points 38 seconds into the game and James slammed home an emphatic dunk from just inside the foul line a few minutes later as Cleveland roared out to a 12-4 lead.
The Cavaliers were never threatened from there, compiling a 31 point lead at one stage of the fourth quarter.