- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CLEVELAND (AP) - A season unlike any other for Atlanta ended suddenly, stunningly, painfully.

The Hawks weren’t quite ready for this.

Unable to slow LeBron James at all, the Hawks were swept in the Eastern Conference finals on Tuesday night with a 118-88 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, who advanced to the NBA Finals for just the second time in franchise history.

For six months, the Hawks ruled the East. They went 17-0 in January, won 19 straight in one stretch, set a team record for wins in a regular season and seemed poised to make a title run.

Not this year.

“Obviously, we weren’t good enough,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We didn’t get it done, but I don’t think it was the moment per se. They were just better than us in the series.”

Jeff Teague scored 17 and Paul Millsap 16 for Atlanta, which won a team-record 60 games during the regular season and made the conference finals for the first time since 1970. But the Hawks were no match for the Cavaliers and had no answer for James, who nearly averaged a triple-double in the four games.

It was a tough way for the Hawks to end a remarkable season. They survived a tumultuous offseason - primary owner Bruce Levenson sold the team and general manager Danny Ferry took a leave of absence - and their young roster gelled almost from the start. They improved their record by 22 wins over last season and beat Brooklyn and Washington in the first two rounds.

But an injury to starting forward Thabo Sefolosha in April was followed by DeMarre Carroll injuring his knee in the series opener, before Kyle Korver’s season ended in Game 2 with an ankle injury.

Those all hurt, but it was James who inflicted the most pain.

The Cavs jumped to an early double-digit lead, which seemed to knock the wind out of the Hawks. There would be no rally, no big comeback, and in the end, no wins in four games.

“They just outplayed us, simple as that,” Millsap said. “They came out firing on all cylinders. Playing behind all game, it was tough. A good team just beat us.”

It was a learning experience for a young team that has plans to get back to the postseason again. Atlanta’s core is mostly intact and the club will focus on resigning free agents-to-be Millsap and Carroll while awaiting the expected approval of a new ownership group led by Antony Ressler, which reached a deal early in the playoffs to buy the team for $850 million.

The sting of losing still fresh, Millsap did not want to address his future.

“Looking at this team, looking at what we’ve built thus far, I’m weighing my options,” he said. “I can’t make a decision right now. It’s been a long series, a long year for me, our team. I’ll let things die down, cool off, relax. But we’re family. This team is close.”

Despite the loss, the Hawks will walk away with their heads high. They can see the future and it looks promising.

“Since we know how it feels to get here, it’ll be easy to get back here,” Carroll said. “I think we grew up faster than we thought, to make it to the Eastern Conference finals, have a 60-game winning season. We know how it feels to get here and we know how it feels right now, losing.

“So I think we’re going to come in next year ready to go. We hated ending it right here but at the same token, man, the best is yet to come.”

Unlike Game 3, when he missed his first 10 shots, James started much better and scored 15 in the first half as the Cavs opened a 17-point halftime lead.

Budenholzer has faced James before in the playoffs, first as an assistant with San Antonio. He’s never seen him better.

“I think his confidence has grown to another level,” he said. “Watching how he orchestrates, he has great command for where he wants his teammates and what’s important in the moment and the confidence he has in himself to make the right play.”

KORVER SURGERY

Korver will undergo surgery Wednesday on the badly damaged ankle he injured when Matthew Dellavedova rolled up on him while diving for a loose ball in Game 2. Budenholzer did not specify what’s wrong with Korver’s ankle and said there’s no timetable for his return.

Korver led the NBA by making 49 percent of his 3-pointers during the regular season. He’s made a 3 in 213 of 220 games with Atlanta.

TIP-INS

Hawks: Among Atlanta’s other notable accomplishments this season: a 12-game road winning streak, a 12-game run against Western Conference teams, a franchise record 13-game streak against Eastern teams.

Cavaliers: James said he underwent treatment “around the clock” on his body since Game 3, when he cramped up in the fourth quarter and overtime. He joked that there’s enough medical equipment at his Bath, Ohio, mansion to rehab most of the Cavs. “If multiple guys wanted to join and get some treatment, they wouldn’t stop me from getting mine.” … James isn’t the only Cleveland player heading to his fifth straight finals. So is swingman James Jones, who played four seasons with James in Miami. … Cleveland is 26-2 at home since Jan. 19.


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