CLEVELAND • A week off did not disrupt the Cleveland Cavaliers' momentum, nor was it enough time to alter the Atlanta Hawks' history against them.
The Cavaliers still have never lost to the Hawks in the National Basketball Association's (NBA) post-season, but this one was not easy.
LeBron James scored 25 points and came up with two big steals late in the Cavs' 104-93 victory against the Hawks to take a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Monday.
It was the eighth consecutive victory for the Cavs over the Hawks after sweeping them in the Conference Finals last year and winning all three meetings in the regular season this year.
But they had to fight back after blowing an 18-point lead in the third quarter.
"When you get it to 18, all you've got to do is lift the shovel up and pour dirt on 'em, especially if you want to be a high-level team," Cavs reserve Richard Jefferson said.
"We didn't do that tonight and it almost cost us."
There were four lead changes and three ties in the final eight frenetic minutes.
"I thought the way our guys competed for the whole night was what we need," Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. "Going forward, I think we can play better."
The Cavs pulled away for good when James stole the ball from Dennis Schroeder with the team clinging to a 92-88 lead and 3min 11sec left.
They needed three cracks at the offensive end, thanks to two huge offensive rebounds, before James converted a three-point play to extend the lead to 95-88 with 2:09 left.
It marked his first basket of the fourth quarter. He finished with nine assists and seven rebounds.
"I just like how our guys come together when things get tough now," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. "That's the biggest thing for us. We've got a great team. When things get tough, we have to come together even more."
Game 2 in the series takes place in Cleveland today.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE