It couldn’t have been any more anti-climatic, but the signs were all over the place. The Atlanta Hawks didn’t show up for game 4 and got deservedly swept in the conference finals by the Cleveland Cavaliers, led by LeBron James but maybe more importantly getting Kyrie Irving back, winning 118-88 to make it a clean 4-0 sweep and make their way to the NBA Finals.
The Cavaliers started strong and simply kept their foot on the gas while the Hawks launched a barrage of 3’s, hitting only 5-of-32. In truth, it seemed as if the game plan for the losers was to simply take an absurd number of 3-pointers and hope for the best. Trying to win this game and keep this series alive by actually thinking and figuring out a way to beat the Cavs? That was too complicated and difficult for them.
James scored 23 points on 10-of-20 from the field, adding 9 rebounds and 7 assists. J.R. Smith scored 18 points to go with 10 boards off the bench. Both Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson scored 16 points (Irving played 23 minutes), Timofey Mozgov added 14 points and Matthew Dellavedova, back on the bench, added 10 of his own as the Cavs once again dominated the boards, and pretty much every other aspect.
David Blatt seemed delirious but focused at the end of the game. He is the first rookie head coach since Paul Westphal in 1993 with the Suns to make the Finals. He’ll probably be joined by another rookie coach, Steve Kerr. While Kerr knew he was taking a job with a lot of expectations when he signed on, Blatt was supposed to be the head coach of a team that has Kyrie Irving and not much else. But then James came along and everything changed. It also made things more complicated and difficult for the American-Israeli coach, although he’s been able to manage quite well despite the criticism and even ridicule.
James finished the series almost averaging a triple double: 30,3 points, 11 rebounds, 9.3 assists. He did shoot just 25% from beyond the arc and 43.8% from the field, but this series was played under less than ideal conditions for him. In game, he finally got to rest a bit, with the Cavaliers needing him on for only 29 minutes. In any case, he’ll have plenty of rest until the Finals series begins.
The Cavaliers found out more in this series about what will work for them and who they can trust. Irving playing with a painful knee isn’t exactly helping, but it did turn J.R. Smith, Dellavedova and Shumpert into more important players and gave the Cavs an opportunity to get their bench players (at least a small few of them) involved. No, we’re not going to see Kendrick Perkins playing more than five minutes a night, but this teams looks stronger and more complete after four mostly dominant games against the Hawks.
For LeBron James this is the fifth consecutive NBA finals, something that hasn’t been done in 50 years, even if it’s a team achievement, not an individual one. James Jones has been along for the ride in all five of them, but never playing a major part. These five final trips, four of them with the Miami Heat, wouldn’t have been possible without him. The Cavaliers are in the NBA finals for only the second time in team history. On both occasions, it had a lot to do with James wearing #23.