CLEVELAND – The Cavaliers were determined not to return to Atlanta.
With an emotional boost provided by injured point guard Kyrie Irving, who scored 9 first-quarter points, and another near triple-double performance by LeBron James, the Cavs only trailed at 2-0 and never again as the City by the Lake streamrolled through the Atlanta Hawks roster with a 118-88 stomping to complete the sweep 4-games-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Cavaliers will meet the winner of the Golden State-Houston series for the NBA Finals beginning June 4.
The thoroughness of the Cavs series win over the Hawks puts a major hole in an otherwise record-breaking, renaissance season that saw them win 60 games and set new standards for arena attendance and television viewership in 2014-15. The Hawks were the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference and some sports pundits predicted the Hawks would get to their first NBA Finals since becoming the Atlanta Hawks in the modern era.
So what went wrong?
- No size in the middle: Most television sports pundits predicted the Cavs would represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals because of the considerable size differential. The Cavs pounded them on the glass, particularly in the offensive rebounding category, leading to countless second-chance baskets. Moreover, The Hawks ineptness in containing Tristan Thompson on the glass is going to make LeBron’s new buddy a very rich man in the offseason. He was a beast on the boards, averaging 11 a game against the Hawks. The offensively-challenged Thompson’s 9 points per game were simply a bonus.
- J.R. Smith resurrected from basketball purgatory: People had already administered the last rites to bad-boy Smith’s career as he languished in the NBA’s basement in New York alongside one-dimensional star Carmelo Anthony before he was scooped up on LeBron’s magic carpet ride. Suddenly, folks have discovered that Smith has a potent jump shot and can play defense.
- 3-point shooting: It was abysmal. Without long-distance sharpshooter Kyle Korver the last two games with season-ending ankle sprain, the Hawks shot 26 of 111 from behind the arc, which was far too much an obstacle to overcome.
- LeBron James: Is an explanation really necessary here? He averaged a near triple double in the series, including the fantastic 37-point, 18-rebound, 13-assist outing in Game 3 that pretty much put the nail in the coffin for the series. With a hobbled DeMarcus Carroll trying futilely to guard James, the Hawks simply had no answer for the four-time MVP and two-time NBA champion.