He was exhausted and exhilarated – and one win from the NBA Finals.
James shook off an atrocious shooting start and withstood Atlanta’s gritty comeback to record a triple-double, and the Cleveland Cavaliers took a 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference finals with a 114-111 win in overtime on Sunday night over the Hawks.
James missed his first 10 shots, but finished with 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists. The Cavs needed every single one of them to hold off the top-seeded Hawks, who fought Cleveland until the final seconds despite being without injured shooter Kyle Korver and losing Al Horford, who was ejected in the first half.
James, who favored his right leg for most of the fourth quarter and OT, hit a 3-pointer with 36.4 seconds left to put the Cavs ahead by one, and the superstar dropped a runner with 12.8 left to make it 114-111.
Atlanta had two chances to tie it in the final seconds, but Shelvin Mack missed two 3-pointers.
When the final horn sounded, James collapsed to the floor and had to be helped to his feet by his teammates. It was their turn to carry him.
James will have just one day to rest up before the Cavs try to earn their second Finals trip – and the fifth in a row for James – in Game 4 on Tuesday night.
Jeff Teague scored 30 points and Paul Millsap 22 for the Hawks, who scratched and clawed for 53 minutes.
Down 10 in the fourth, the Hawks showed championship toughness and nearly pulled off a win that would have guaranteed them another home game on Thursday. They’ll have to dig deep again, and they are facing long odds to win the series as no NBA team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit.
Already in a bind, the Hawks were dealt another major blow when Horford was ejected in the final minute of the first half for throwing an elbow at Dellavedova’s head.
Without Korver, the Hawks were missing one of their most reliable offensive weapons, though the dead-eyed shooter had been off the mark during much of this postseason. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Kent Bazemore, who earlier in the day stood by his comments that he believed the Hawks were the better team.
The Hawks started well, getting eight points from Horford while taking a 12-4 lead. But his ejection was costly and the Hawks are now one loss from having their season end.
Cleveland Cavaliers 114 beat Atlanta Hawks 111
Cleveland Cavaliers v/s Atlanta Hawks, 27th May, 2015. 6:00 AM