CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Cavaliers shook off some rust and then dusted off the Atlanta Hawks.
Newly crowned MVP LeBron James scored 34 points and the well-rested Cavs, who waited nine days between playoff games after a first-round sweep, pulled away in the second half for a 99-72 win over the Atlanta Hawks in their Eastern Conference semifinal opener Tuesday.
Showing why he was voted the league’s best player in a landslide, James added 10 rebounds, three assists and four steals as the top-seeded Cavs won their fifth straight lopsided game in a postseason that has so far mirrored the best regular season in franchise history.
Mo Williams added 21 points for Cleveland, which has won each of its five games by double figures.
Before the game, James pressed the trophy high above his head and gave 20,000 Cleveland fans another chance to chant “M-V-P!”
James actually won the award Monday and received it during an intimate ceremony at his alma mater, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. Only James’ teammates, family members, friends and hundreds of students were able to attend in the school’s small gymnasium.
Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena was sold out for the Cavaliers’ first playoff game in nine days, and James made sure to thank fans during a brief pregame speech.
“You guys have a big part in this MVP trophy,” he said. “I know you’ve been waiting around for nine days. I’m ready to get back on the court.”
James, who was on the floor practicing more than three hours before tipoff, was in MVP form from the outset. He scored on a dunk for the Cavs’ first two points and finished the first quarter with 16 and five rebounds.
Stern praised the 24-year-old James, who won the award by a wide margin over Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade, two of his teammates on the U.S. Olympic team that won a gold medal at last summer’s Beijing Olympics.
“We’ve seen someone bloom before our very eyes,” Stern said. “It’s been a great, great year and it’s fun to see the Cavs having this great run and LeBron leading it.”