- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

CLEVELAND — Escorted by family members and friends, LeBron James walked out of Quicken Loans Arena cradling his sleepy youngest son with his left arm while clutching an expensive bottle of champagne in his right hand.

It was time for one James to go to bed, the other to have a late-night drink and get some much-needed rest.

The NBA Finals lie ahead.

Taking his magnificent game to a higher level, James sent the Cleveland Cavaliers into the finals for the second time in franchise history on Tuesday night with a 118-88 romp over the Atlanta Hawks, who couldn’t stop the four-time league MVP and were swept in four games.

Driven by the chance to end the city’s half-century-old championship drought, James was brilliant from start to finish. He averaged 30.3 points, 11 rebounds and 9.3 assists, the first player in postseason history to put up that statistical line. He’s never been better in the playoffs.

The Cavaliers don’t know their opponent yet, as the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets still have to settle things in the Western Conference Finals. But in the Eastern Conference, one team stands above all the others — the one with James, who will appear in his fifth consecutive NBA Finals after going the last four years with the Miami Heat.

He returned to Ohio to win a title for his home region, where second place has been as good as it gets since the Cleveland Browns ruled the NFL in 1964. There has been heartbreak in the years since as the Cleveland Indians lost two World Series, the Browns were denied in three AFC championship games by the Denver Broncos and John Elway and the Cavaliers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in 2007.

With four wins, James can change that.

“We all know how long it’s been since a champion has been in this city,” he said. “We will give our best shot.”

In the delirious moments after Game 4, James stood at mid-court as adoring Cleveland fans chanted about the NBA Finals. He pulled a conference championship T-shirt over his head and put on a cap before turning to teammate J.R. Smith with a simple message.

“Four more,” he said.

The Finals don’t start until June 4, giving the Cavaliers nearly eight full days to get healthy — or as close to healthy as possible.

James has been battling an assortment of injuries and Kyrie Irving returned to the lineup after missing Game 2 and Game 3 with tendinitis in one of his knees. Irving has battled soreness and a sprained right foot throughout the playoffs. The all-star scored 16 points and had five assists in 22 minutes in Game 4. There’s a good chance Irving won’t be fully healed until after the season, so he might be more a role player in the finals.

Sitting again wasn’t an option.

“I knew that I wasn’t gonna sit on the bench and watch our guys go through a close-out game,” Irving said. “I just wanted to be out there so bad. These last four days have been kind of hell for me. Just icing, icing, icing.”

Backup Matthew Dellavedova stepped up against Atlanta, pestering the Hawks with his belly-to-belly defense and knocking down big shots.

The Cavaliers don’t rely on James to do everything. Besides Dellavedova, the Cavaliers have gotten major contributions from several role players. Tristan Thompson has grabbed 10 or more rebounds in seven of his nine starts; J.R. Smith made eight 3-pointers in Game 1 and four in Game 4, when he also had 10 rebounds; Timofey Mozgov had 14 points on Tuesday; and Iman Shumpert is the team’s best perimeter defender.

The Cavaliers have become selfless. Defensively, they’re allowing just 92.6 points per game, tied with the Chicago Bulls for best among any teams in this postseason, and are limiting opponents to 41.2 percent shooting. Atlanta shot just 23.4 percent from 3-point range, lowering opponents’ shooting percentage against the Cavaliers behind the arc to 27.8 percent.

“That’s what trying to accomplish a dream is all about,” James said.

Cleveland will host Game 3 and Game 4, and, if necessary, Game 6 at Quicken Loans Arena, one of the league’s noisiest buildings. They have won 26 of their last 28 games there, including 18 games by double digits.


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