ATLANTA — LeBron James scored 30 points and the Cleveland Cavaliers took total command of the Eastern Conference final even without injured star Kyrie Irving, routing the Atlanta Hawks 94-82 on Friday night for a 2-0 lead with the series heading to Ohio.
The Cavaliers made it a blowout with a dominating third quarter. James scored 11 points, the Hawks shot just 32 per cent (7 of 22), and Cleveland led by as many as 20 before settling for an 84-66 lead heading to the final period.
Irving was scratched before the game because of an ailing left knee. He wasn’t missed a bit.
James assumed many of the ball-handling duties, taking advantage of DeMarre Carroll clearly not being at 100 per cent after he went down with a knee injury late in Game 1. Carroll started after being carried off the court just two nights earlier but hardly looked like the “Junkyard Dog.”
He wasn’t the only one struggling. The Hawks looked totally outclassed for one of the few times all season.
The Cavaliers can wrap up the best-of-seven series simply by winning at home. The next two are in Cleveland, beginning with Game 3 on Sunday night.
Tristan Thompson led another dominating performance for the Cavaliers on the boards. He had 16 rebounds and Cleveland finished with a 47-39 advantage.
When Thompson dunked off a pass from James with just under 5 minutes remaining, the Cavaliers had a 93-74 lead and many Atlanta fans began heading for the exits, perhaps knowing they had seen their team for the last time in this most unexpected season. Atlanta won a franchise-record 60 games to claim the top seed in the East, but the Hawks were picked apart by the best player in the world.
Forget the Big Three.
The Big One was plenty of the Cavaliers, who are two wins away from returning the NBA Finals and taking another crack at their first championship.
This is why James returned to his de facto hometown after spending four years in Miami, leading the Heat to a pair of titles. The Cavaliers assembled a Miami-like trio with James, Irving and Kevin Love, but the King is doing just fine on his own with Irving hobbled and Love out with a season-ending injury.
The Hawks had hoped that Carroll’s appearance would provide an emotional boost. An injury that looked much more serious when he helped off the court in Game 1 turned out to be only a sprain, and he drew a big cheer from the crowd when he did his customary sprint across the court during the opening introductions.
But at less than full speed, Carroll had no chance trying to guard James, who made 10 of 22 shots including a pair of 3-pointers. When the Hawks began collapsing toward the lane, trying to give Carroll help, James always seemed to fine the open man — often lurking behind the 3-point arc.
James had 11 assists, and the Cavaliers finished 12 of 30 beyond the arc. The King just missed a triple-double, grabbing nine rebounds.
Dennis Schroder led the Hawks with just 13 points. Carroll managed only six points in just under 34 minutes.
Carroll wasn’t the only one hurting. Kyle Korver got his right ankle rolled going for a loose ball late in the third quarter and didn’t return. Al Horford banged his knee early in the fourth and hobbled to the bench, though he was able to finish out the game.
It didn’t really matter.
By the end, the Hawks had cleared their bench.
Cavaliers: Cleveland has outrebounded the Hawks 96-76 over the first two games. … Iman Shumpert hit four 3-pointers and finished with 16 points. … Matthew Dellavedova started at point guard in place of Irving and had 11 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Hawks: Made only 42 per cent from the field, including 6 of 26 from 3-point range. … The starters combined for just 46 points, led by Horford, Korver and Jeff Teague with 12 apiece. … Paul Millsap managed only four points on 2-of-8 shooting.
THE KING’S MILESTONES
James had the 74th 30-point game in the playoffs, tying him with Jerry West for fourth on the career list.
The only players with more are Michael Jordan (109), Kobe Bryant (88) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (75).
James also had his 53rd playoff game with at least 30 points, five rebounds and five assists, extending his record for most in NBA history. He broke a tie with Jordan in that category in Game 1.
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Paul Newberry, The Associated Press