NBA: Cavaliers maintain dominance over Hawks, win Eastern Conference semis opener

Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford (left) defends as LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes the ball.
Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford (left) defends as LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes the ball.PHOTO: EPA

CLEVELAND (REUTERS) - LeBron James scored 25 points and came up with two big steals late in the game as Cleveland continued their dominance over the Atlanta Hawks with a 104-93 victory on Monday to take a 1-0 series lead in the National Basketball Association Eastern Conference semi-finals.

It was the eighth consecutive victory for the Cavs over the Hawks after sweeping them in the Conference Finals last season and winning all three meetings in the regular season.

But it was not easy.

A dunk by James with 3min 56sec left in the third quarter put the Cavaliers ahead 72-54 before the Hawks roared back, scoring 11 straight points and closing the third by scoring 16 of the last 18 points to pull within 74-70 at the start of the fourth.

Al Horford's dunk with eight minutes left gave the Hawks their first lead of the night at 80-79, but Kyrie Irving countered with a corner three-pointer - his first basket since early in the second quarter. There were four lead changes and three ties in the final eight frenetic minutes.

The Cavs pulled away for good when James stole the ball from Dennis Schroder with the Cavs clinging to a 92-88 lead and 3:11 left.

The Cavs 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 James' first basket of the fourth quarter. He finished with nine assists and seven rebounds.

Irving had 21 points and eight assists, and Kevin Love had 17 points and 11 rebounds despite a tough 4-of-17 shooting night. Tristan Thompson had 14 rebounds for the Cavs, who improved to 9-0 all-time against the Hawks in the post-season.

Schroder scored a career-playoff-high 27 points for the Hawks, who went more than four minutes late in the game without a field goal as the Cavs pulled away. Paul Millsap had 17 points and 13 rebounds and Kent Bazemore had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Atlanta.

It was the Cavs' first game after a week off, but they showed little rust despite the long layoff.