CLEVELAND — LeBron James scored 25 points, Kyrie Irving added 21 and the Cleveland Cavaliers withstood a strong comeback by Atlanta to maintain their chokehold on the Hawks with a 104-93 victory on Monday night in the opening game of their second-round Eastern Conference series.
James converted a critical three-point play with 2:09 left for the Cavs, who fell behind in the fourth after leading by 18.
Cleveland swept Atlanta in last year’s Eastern Conference finals and has won eight straight over the Hawks. Cleveland also improved to 9-0 against Atlanta in the postseason.
Dennis Schroder scored a playoff career-high 27 and rallied the Hawks before they crumbled in the closing minutes.
Atlanta’s offense bogged down in crunch time and the Hawks only scored two field goals in the final 4 minutes.
Paul Millsap added 17 points and 13 rebounds for Atlanta, which got just eight points from Jeff Teague.
James’ three-point play, which he punctuated by flexing his biceps, came after he stripped the ball from Schroder and the Cavs kept their possession alive with a pair of offensive rebounds, one by Tristan Thompson, the other by J.R. Smith.
Game 2 is Wednesday night.
The Cavs didn’t show any rust following an eight-day break after the first round until the third quarter, when their offense slowed and the Hawks got hot. But when it mattered most, the defending conference champions made the big plays, and as always, James led the way.
Kevin Love, who was injured when the teams met in the postseason last year, added 17 points but was just 4 of 17 from the floor. Thompson added 14 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end.
Cavs coach Tyronn Lue wasn’t worried about his team being overconfident despite its success over the Hawks.
“This team has our team’s attention,” he said before the game. “They’re a good team. We know they’re capable of scoring the basketball and playing great defensively. We’re not going to overlook these guys.”
The Cavs came out strong and seemed intent on knocking out the Hawks. Love, who missed six of his first seven 3-pointers, knocked down a pair from long range and James finished a 2-on-1 break with a thunderous dunk to give Cleveland a 72-54 lead with 4 minutes left in the third.
With Cleveland’s sell-out crowd roaring, the Hawks looked to be in big trouble.
Atlanta, though, responded with its own deep barrage, draining four 3-pointers in a 16-3 spurt to close the quarter and pull within 75-70 entering the fourth.
Hawks: Al Horford went 4 of 13 in his team-record 71st playoff game. Teague ranks second on Atlanta’s career list with 59. … The Hawks are making their ninth straight playoff appearance, the second-longest streak in the NBA to San Antonio’s 19 in a row. They have only advanced beyond the East semifinals once during their run. … Atlanta came in 65-16 in the postseason since 1950-51 when holding opponents to under 40 percent shooting.
Cavaliers: Cleveland’s nine-game postseason winning streak over Atlanta is the second-longest active one in the league, topped only by the Cavs’ 12-game run over Detroit. … James played in his 183rd playoff game, tying him with former Cavs coach Byron Scott for 14th place on the career list. … LSU’s Ben Simmons, who is expected to be the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, sat courtside. He’s being represented by James’ agent, Rich Paul. … Browns safety Joe Haden and Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor and second baseman Jason Kipnis attended the game.