CLEVELAND (AP) LeBron James scored 34 points in three quarters, Kyrie Irving added 35 and the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 109-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.
James scored 19 in the third quarter and only sat for four of the first 36 minutes as the Cavs ensured they’ll have home-court advantage until the NBA Finals.
James shot 13 of 16, made all five free throws and added six rebounds and six assists – another dazzling statistical line for the four-time MVP who switched into playoff mode weeks ago.
When James finally sat down late in the third, Irving made sure he didn’t have to come back in by scoring nine points in the first four minutes. Kevin Love added 14 rebounds for Cleveland.
Kent Bazemore scored 23 points and Jeff Teague had 21 for the Hawks, who came in holding the East’s No. 3 seed. Atlanta has lost seven in a row to Cleveland, which swept the Hawks in last year’s conference finals.
James has been saying his body feels as good as it has in years, and that he’s primed to make another run at ending Cleveland’s 52-year pro sports championship drought. In his past 10 games, James is averaging 28.4 points and shooting 63 percent from the field – nearly 52 percent on 3-pointers.
With just a two-game lead over Toronto, which held the tiebreaker over Cleveland, there was no margin for error and James made sure there was nothing to worry about until the postseason starts.
The 31-year-old will likely get another well-deserved day’s rest as Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is expected to sit most of his regulars in Wednesday’s regular-season finale against Detroit – a possible first-round opponent.
The Hawks, who are 15-5 in their past 20, couldn’t do anything to stop James in the third. He was stellar inside and out, making 7 of 8 shots and imposing his will at both ends.
With Cleveland leading 65-62, James made a 3-pointer, converted a three-point play and dropped two free throws to put Cleveland ahead by seven.
James finally grabbed a seat with 1:46 left in the quarter, but he jumped from it early in the fourth after Irving made a 3-pointer to make it 100-81.
Hawks: Bazemore scored Atlanta’s first eight points and had 21 at halftime. … Coach Mike Budenholzer downplayed the importance of playoff seedings. Atlanta was No. 1 in the East a year ago, but that didn’t do them any good against the Cavs. “We just want to be playing well and healthy,” Budenholzer said. “You’re going to have to beat good teams in the East. The depth and quality of the East is better. It’s obviously reflected in everybody’s records. When you play night after night you can feel it and see it.” … Atlanta’s nine-year streak making the playoffs is the longest in the East.
Cavaliers: G Iman Shumpert had his left knee drained over the weekend. Lue said he’s been told that Shumpert, who has been slowed by a variety of ailments the past two seasons, should be fine for the playoffs. Shumpert signed a four-year, $40 million contract last summer. … G Mo Williams made another visit to see Dr. James Andrews about his troublesome left knee. Williams was sent back from last week’s road trip for further medical evaluation. Surgery is possible. … The injuries to Shumpert and Williams prompted the team to recall C Sasha Kaun and G Jordan McRae from Canton after they were sent to the D-League team earlier in the day.
Hawks: At Washington on Wednesday.
Cavaliers: Host Detroit on Wednesday.