ATLANTA: LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks 97-89 on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) to open the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
With a berth in the NBA championship finals on the line in the best-of-seven series, J.R. Smith set a Cavaliers club record for three-pointers, draining eight from beyond the arc and scoring 28 points in the triumph.
Four-time NBA Most Valuable Player James scored 31 points, pulled down eight rebounds and handed out six assists for the Cavaliers, who took control in the third quarter in which they out-scored the Hawks 23-16.
James, playing in his fifth Eastern Conference final after taking Miami to four championship series and two titles in the past four years, sealed the victory with a thundering dunk in the final minute.
Jeff Teague scored 27 points to lead Atlanta, but the Hawks lost starting forward DeMarre Carroll to a left leg injury in the fourth quarter.
The Cavaliers will try to strengthen their grip on the series in game two on Friday.
The winners of the series will take on the Western Conference champions in the NBA Finals.
Golden State, the best team in the regular season, leads Houston 1-0 in the Western Conference championships.