Cavs looks unstoppable as they eye another playoff sweep
ATLANTA (AP) This is what LeBron James envisioned when he returned to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Players all around capable of sharing the load.
A team that looks very much like a potential NBA champion, even though the 73-win Golden State Warriors could be lurking at the end.
''I've always believed we were destined for something great,'' James said.
The Cavaliers will look to wrap up their second sweep of these playoffs when they take on the Atlanta Hawks in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, one of two games on tap for Sunday.
In the West, the San Antonio Spurs are up 2-1 and can build a commanding lead over the Thunder after reclaiming the home-court edge with a victory Friday night in Oklahoma City.
That still looks like a competitive series, the last two games decided by a total of five points.
The Hawks, on the other hand, have been no match for the Cavaliers. Even with their best performance of the series in Game 3, they were incapable of standing up to a team that beat them inside and out, complementing the Big Three of James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love with a 27-point effort from Channing Frye.
Coming off a record 25 3-pointers in Game 2, Cleveland was nearly as good from the outside with a 21-of-39 showing beyond the arc, led by Frye knocking down 7 of 9. If that wasn't bad enough for Atlanta, the Cavaliers finished with a commanding 55-28 edge on the boards, as James, Love and Tristan Thompson also reached double-figure rebounds.
It added up to a 121-108 victory that pushed the Hawks to the brink of elimination.
''They just took it to another level,'' Atlanta center Al Horford said. ''If they keep shooting it like that, they're going to be unstoppable.''
That's what James had in mind all along.
A look at Sunday's games:
Cavaliers at Hawks, Cleveland leads series 3-0. 3:30 p.m. EDT, ABC.
A year ago, the Cavs nearly pulled off their first title even though Love missed most of the playoffs with a shoulder injury and Irving went down in Game 1 of the NBA Finals with a fractured kneecap.
Now, with Irving fully recovered and Love looking more comfortable in his role, the Cavaliers breezed past Detroit in four straight games and are on the verge of sweeping the Hawks out of the playoffs for the second year in a row.
Frye's emergence means the Hawks can't just worry about the Big Three. In the final period of Game 3, the 6-foot-11 forward was on the court with the 6-foot-10 Love for nearly the entire quarter, setting up all sorts of matchup issues for the Hawks. The Cavaliers closed on a 22-5 run.
Rookie coach Tyronn Lue, who took over at midseason after the firing of David Blatt, has pushed all the right buttons in the playoffs. If all goes according to plan in Game 4, the Cavaliers will wrap up another series as quickly as possible and give themselves plenty of extra rest before the conference final.
That could prove more beneficial if the Cavs return to the NBA Finals.
''In the playoffs, every possession counts, every possession is hard,'' Lue said. ''The least amount of games we play, the better for us and the better for our bodies. It could mean a lot for us down the stretch.''
Spurs at Thunder, San Antonio leads series 2-1. 8 p.m., TNT.
Russell Westbrook's demeanor after the Thunder's Game 3 loss spoke volumes.
The sometimes surly point guard was contrite and downtrodden as the impact of his mistakes weighed on him following a 100-96 defeat. He scored 31 points but made just 10 of 31 shots.
''It starts with me,'' Westbrook said.
He will need to be more efficient in Game 4 to give the Thunder a chance to regain their footing in the series. In a 98-97 victory at San Antonio, Westbrook made just 11 of 25 shots but kept the Spurs on the defensive with his energy and relentless attacking.
In the latest game, Westbrook got to the rim at will but missed a bunch of shots he usually makes. He blamed himself for not passing more.
''I've got to do a better job of putting guys in position to score,'' he said. ''Especially to beat this team, you need to find ways to move the ball around, and that starts with me. I've got to do a better job of that leading into the next game.''
Westbrook also committed three of his five turnovers in the fourth quarter.
''Lock in. Take responsibility when the ball is in my hands and make plays for my teammates,'' he said. ''I didn't do that.''
AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry .