Published May 03, 2016
Cleveland, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - LeBron James clapped his hands, pumped his fist and jumped up and down with joy on the Cavaliers bench for much of the fourth quarter.
He's just four wins away from fulfilling his goal of winning a championship for the title-starved city of Cleveland.
James had 23 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and the Cavaliers routed the Atlanta Hawks 118-88 to finish off an Eastern Conference finals sweep on Tuesday night.
Cleveland advanced to its first NBA Finals since 2007, when it was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. The city hasn't celebrated a title since the Cleveland Browns won the NFL championship in 1964.
"I'm a guy who believes in unfinished business," James said on potentially bringing Cleveland a championship.
The Cavaliers franchise has never won an NBA title.
"It hasn't always been easy the last 51 years, waiting," first-year Cavaliers coach David Blatt said. "We know the people are behind us and that's part of our motivation."
The four-time NBA MVP James, coming off his 37-point, 18-rebound and 13- assists triple-double in an epic Game 3 performance, advanced to his fifth straight NBA Finals.
Kyrie Irving returned following a two-game absence due to a lingering knee issue and posted 16 points and five assists in 22 minutes.
"He did fabulously, played beautifully, he moved well," Blatt said of Irving. "He wanted so much to be with his guys and to contribute."
The sweep allows Irving to rest eight days until the Finals begin next Thursday.
"We wanted to have this break to get him well," Blatt said.
Irving scored his first points 38 seconds into the game and James soared in the air for an emphatic dunk from just inside the foul line a few minutes later en route to helping the Cavs race out to a 12-4 lead.
Cleveland was never threatened from there and built its margin to as many as 31 in the fourth.
James didn't make any guarantees or promises when he returned to his home state in July following a messy divorce from the franchise four years earlier. The days of Cavaliers fans burning his jersey following his departure to South Beach where he won two NBA championships are now a distant memory.
In his essay to Sports Illustrated during the summer, he stated that the Cavaliers weren't "ready right now" and it would be a "long process" until they could win an NBA title.
So much for that prediction, the future is now.
"We have everything it takes to win," James said during the trophy presentation.
J.R. Smith provided 18 points and 10 rebounds and Tristan Thompson added 16 points and 11 boards for the second-seeded Cavaliers, who will face either the Golden State Warriors or Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals. The Warriors lead that series 3-1.
Jeff Teague netted 17 points and Paul Millsap supplied 16 points and 10 rebounds for top-seeded and 60-win Atlanta.
"We did a lot of things in Atlanta basketball history," Teague said of the season. "We look forwarded to getting back in the gym and getting ready for next year."
The Hawks were just 5-of-32 (15.6 percent) from beyond the arc.
"Cleveland's defense was good the entire series," Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said.
After shooting just 22.2 percent in the opening frame of Game 3, Cleveland came out firing on all cylinders in Game 4, shooting 58.3 percent in the first quarter.
Irving scored nine points and Thompson's right wing jumper at the first quarter horn staked the Cavaliers to a 32-20 advantage.
James drove the right wing and spun around Al Horford for a highlight-reel layup before putting in another easy basket off a Smith feed to push the margin to 43-28 early in the second.
Cleveland was up 59-42 at the break and 85-60 at the end of three.
James and Irving didn't play the fourth, which was highlighted on Matthew Dellavedova's one-handed putback for a three-point play and a 101-72 cushion at the 7:02 mark.
"Perhaps the greatest below-the-rim tap in the history of the game," Blatt joked.
The Cavs unleashed their seldom-used reserves for the final half of the fourth.
Cleveland's James Jones is also heading to his fifth straight NBA Finals. No players had made five consecutive NBA Finals appearances since Bill Russell in 1966 ... The Cavaliers are 8-0 in their franchise playoff history against the Hawks ... Atlanta's Kyle Korver will undergo surgery Wednesday for the ankle injury he suffered in Game 2 ... James was 10-of-20 from the floor.