CLEVELAND, May 6 – LeBron James, who was playing in his first game since being named league MVP, scored 34 points as the Cleveland Cavaliers beat Atlanta 99-72 in the opening game of their NBA playoff series.James also had 10 rebounds, three assists and four steals in the best-of-seven quarter-final playoff game.
"I have never seen a player as young as LeBron, as strong as LeBron, as quick and as athletic as LeBron that has all the fundamental tools a player can have," said Atlanta coach Mike Woodson. "I have never seen that type of player in my lifetime. And he’s still young.
That’s the scary thing."
Cleveland has carried their strong play over from the regular season into the playoffs, winning their fifth-straight game in the postseason. The Cavaliers were also well rested having 10 days off between games.
Mo Williams added 21 points for Cleveland, which has won each of its five games by double figures.
With the Cavs up by 21, James was pulled with 4:29 left. Game two is Thursday at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavaliers are 42-2.
Josh Smith scored 22 and Mike Bibby 19 for the Hawks, who needed seven games to get past Miami and are playing in the second round for the first time in 10 years.
James was presented with his MVP trophy before the game by league commissioner David Stern, who complimented the 24-year-old superstar’s selflessness.
Stern’s praise was nearly drowned out by more than 20,000 fans chanting "M-V-P. James is the first Cavaliers player to win the award.
Atlanta chose to stay in their locker room and only took the floor after James addressed the crowd.
"I think the team knew and I knew the ceremony was going to happen, but we still had a game to play," James said. "We didn’t want to rain in the ceremony by not preparing ourselves the best way to come out and play. We had some lapses in the first half, but we got it going in the third and fourth quarter and took care of the game."
It it was when James sat down on the bench that the Cavaliers opened a 12-point lead. The Hawks, though, didn’t let Cleveland get any further away.