CLEVELAND — LeBron James had a miserable start and a memorable finish Sunday. As a result, the Cleveland Cavaliers are one win away from their second NBA Finals trip in franchise history.
James compiled 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists after missing his first 10 shots, and the Cavaliers beat the Atlanta Hawks 114-111 in overtime Sunday to take a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals. Cleveland will go for the sweep at home Tuesday night.
The Cavaliers played their second consecutive game without All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, who again sat out due to left knee tendinitis. Cleveland hasn’t really needed him yet in the series against the East’s top seed.
The Hawks had a chance to force a second overtime, but guard Shelvin Mack missed pair of 3-point attempts in the final seconds.
Reserve guard J.R. Smith had 17 points and 10 rebounds, and guard Matthew Dellavedova scored 17 points in place of Irving for the Cavaliers, whose only other Finals trip was with James in 2007.
The Cavaliers are rolling; the Hawks are reeling.
Jeff Teague gave the Hawks a 111-109 overtime lead on a step-back 3-pointer, but James took the lead right back on a 3-pointer. James missed his first shot, but forward Tristan Thompson grabbed the offensive rebound and gave it back to him in the corner.
The Hawks had a chance to retake the lead, but Teague missed a layup with James pursuing him and the Hawks knocked the ball out of bounds with 30 seconds left.
James scored again on a drive to the basket over forward Paul Millsap with 13 seconds left, setting up the Hawks’ final possession.
The Hawks had a chance to win it in regulation, but Teague missed a clean look at a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Teague had 30 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and Millsap added 22 points and nine rebounds. Hawks guard Kent Bazemore contributed 14 points and seven rebounds while filling in for injured guard Kyle Korver.
Typically mild-mannered Hawks center Al Horford was assessed a flagrant-2 foul and ejected in the final minute of the first half with the Cavaliers leading 48-47. Dellavedova and Horford were fighting for rebounding position when Dellavedova stumbled over Atlanta forward DeMarre Carroll and fell into Horford’s leg.
Horford responded by dropping an elbow on Dellavedova, the same player who rolled up Korver’s leg in Game 2 while diving for a loose ball. As a result, Korver is lost for the postseason.
After a lengthy review, Dellavedova was given a technical foul and Horford was ejected. He finished with 14 points and four rebounds, serving as the Hawks’ best offensive weapon to that point.
When the arena showed the replay on the scoreboard, fans booed before breaking into a chant of “Del-ly!” for the second-year undrafted point guard.
Dellavedova isn’t new to this. He got Bulls forward Taj Gibson ejected from a game in the conference semifinals after Dellavedova pinned Gibson’s leg between his own feet after a pileup on the floor. Gibson kicked Dellavedova trying to get loose and was given a flagrant-2 and also ejected.
Horford’s availability for Tuesday’s potential Game 4 closeout remains in doubt. While a suspension seems unlikely, the league reviews all flagrant-2 fouls for potential additional sanctions.
The Hawks stormed through the regular season, finishing as the East’s only 60-win team. But they were pushed to six games in each of their first two series and are now one more loss from getting swept out of the playoffs after beating the Cavaliers in three of four meetings during the regular season.
James shot 0-for-9 in the first quarter, the worst start to a game in his lengthy postseason career, and his 0-for-10 start was his worst in any game. It was just the third time in 171 playoff games he went scoreless in the first quarter.
James didn’t score until stepping to the free-throw line 16 minutes into the game, and he didn’t score his first basket until 7:04 remained in the first half. However, he rebounded with 15 points, six rebounds and six assists in an incredible third quarter to give the Cavaliers an 81-76 lead entering the fourth.
James appeared to injure his right knee in the overtime session and initially asked out of the game, but he changed his mind and played through it. He hobbled around during game breaks and even had to call a timeout to get a chance to sit momentarily.
James passed both Jerry West and Karl Malone to move into sixth place on the NBA’s all-time postseason scoring list. His 12 triple-doubles are second only to Magic Johnson’s 30.