ATLANTA -- LeBron James scored 31 points, while J.R. Smith made eight three-pointers and added 28 to lead the Cleveland Cavaliers past the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks 97-89 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals last night.
Making a tough night even worse for the Hawks, they sustained a potentially huge blow in the fourth quarter when DeMarre Carroll went out with a knee injury.
Intent on bringing Cleveland its first NBA title, James sealed the victory with a soaring dunk in the final minute. But Smith was the one who ignited the Cavaliers, going 8 of 12 from three-point range.
For the Hawks, it was the second straight series in which they've lost the opening game at home. Cleveland will look to take command of the series in Game 2 tomorrow night.
Jeff Teague led Atlanta with 27 points. Carroll, who had been the Hawks' leading scorer in the playoffs, went down driving to the basket with 4:59 remaining. He was helped to the locker room, not putting any weight on his left leg. Coach Mike Budenholzer said the initial diagnosis was a sprained knee, with an MRI scheduled for today to determine the seriousness.
The Cavaliers took control when Smith knocked down back-to-back 3s in the third quarter. After the second one, he turned toward the Atlanta fans and blew off his right index finger and motioned toward his side, like he was holstering his pistol.
Yep, he was that hot.
Cleveland outscored the Hawks 22-4 over the final five minutes of the third quarter and the first two minutes of the fourth. In fact, the Cavs scored the first 11 points of the final period for their biggest lead, 85-67.
Carroll's injury left the crowd in silence and would be tough for the Hawks to overcome. Not only was he their main defender on James, he has turned into an offensive force in the playoffs, averaging more than 17 points coming into the first Eastern Conference final in Atlanta history.