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Cavs on the brink

Sunday, May 10, 2009

EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS | Game 3

LeBron torches Hawks for 47

ATLANTA (AP) — The Cleveland Cavaliers were actually being challenged.

Finally, LeBron James had seen enough.

James scored 47 points in his best game yet of these playoffs, leading the Cavaliers to the brink of their second straight postseason sweep with a 97-82 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night.

Back home after two blowout losses in Cleveland, the Hawks put up their best fight of the series. It didn’t matter. They now find themselves just one defeat away from calling it a season, the Cavaliers pushing out to another 3-0 lead after breezing past Detroit in the opening round.

Cleveland kept up its dominating run through the playoffs, setting an NBA record with its seventh straight double-figure win to eclipse the mark set by the 2004 Indiana Pacers. The only solace for the Hawks: They stopped Cleveland’s streak of 20-point playoff wins at three.

The Hawks were only down 47-46 at the halftime, and they surged back into their first second-half lead of the series with a 13-0 run in the third quarter. But Zaza Pachulia foolishly got ejected for arguing a foul call — acting as though he might attack the officials — and Atlanta faded away down the stretch.

James eclipsed his previous high in these playoffs of 38 points vs. the Pistons, and finished just one off his best playoff performance ever, a 48-point night against Detroit while leading Cleveland to its first trip ever to the NBA finals.

They appear to be on the way again, especially with the league’s MVP leading the way.

James hit a running 13-footer to send the Cavaliers to the final period with a 72-65 lead. If the Hawks had any thoughts of a comeback, the King quickly erased them.

He hit a jumper near the courtside seat and slapped his hands in delight with just over 8 minutes remaining. On Cleveland’s next possession, James stood out near the half-court line, barking instructions at his teammates. Delonte West and Zydrunas Ilgauskas both popped out to set picks, and James swerved through the Atlanta defense like a sleek race car, pulling up to launch a floater just off the foul lane.

Nothing but net.

James repeated the same drill from the opposite side, only this time he cut along the baseline, drawing virtually every Atlanta player his way, before dumping off to a wide-open Ilgauskas under the basket. The Hawks had no choice but to hack the big man as he went up to shoot, stopping the layup but sending him to the foul line.

Indeed, while James was a virtual one-man show, he kept his teammates involved by dishing out eight assists. If that wasn’t enough, he led Cleveland to a dominant performance on the boards, 46-23, with 12 rebounds — more than anyone else on the court.

Finally, with 44 seconds remaining, James’ work was done. He went off to a big ovation from the smattering of Cleveland fans who hung around to chant, “MVP! MVP! MVP!”

James has been incredibly efficient in this series, playing 108 minutes and scoring 108 points.

Atlanta was hardly in position to challenge the Cavaliers, who had the league’s best record during the regular season (66-16) and finished 19 games ahead of the Hawks. When factoring in that three starters — Joe Johnson, Al Horford and Marvin Williams — were hurting, there seemed little chance of Atlanta challenging the seemingly unstoppable Cavaliers.

But they actually did for nearly three quarters. But Pachulia’s ejection seemed to take any life out of the raucous crowd.