The Hawks gave the Cavaliers everything they had in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but still came up short in an overtime loss thanks to an incredibly brilliant performance from LeBron James.
Once Game 4 began, with Cleveland looking to close out the series at home, it was clear that Atlanta simply had nothing left.
The Cavaliers steamrolled the Hawks 118-88 to win the Eastern Conference crown, and advance to the NBA Finals.
While Cleveland will be experiencing its first trip to the championship round since 2007, this is beginning to be a regular occurrence for LeBron — he’s the first player (along with teammate James Jones) to make five straight Finals appearances since several members of the 1966 Boston Celtics.
James dragged his team to victory in Game 3, but didn’t need to do nearly as much of the heavy lifting in this one. He finished with 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, but didn’t play the entire fourth quarter due to the lead never dropping below 22 points.
Kyrie Irving returned to the lineup after a two-game absence, and looked sharp in scoring nine first-quarter points and 16 overall in just under 22 minutes of action. Tristan Thompson and Timofey Mozgov continued their punishment of the Hawks’ front line, and J.R. Smith rained down jumpers to finish with 18 points off the bench.
Atlanta’s 60-win season is something to be celebrated, and injuries are largely to blame for the disappointing way that the Hawks saw things come to a close. Thabo Sefolosha and Kyle Korver were out entirely before the series was through, and DeMarre Carroll, while still on the floor, was never the same after the Game 1 knee injury he suffered.
The question for the Cavaliers now becomes whether or not the team is skilled enough to rise to the challenge of battling the best team in the West, which is likely to be the Golden State Warriors, who have been dominant on both ends of the floor all season long.
But as we’ve seen throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs for going on the last five seasons, having LeBron James in the starting lineup is more than enough to give whatever team he happens to be playing for a legitimate fighting chance.