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James perseveres to earn Cavs Game 3 win

POSTED: May 25, 2015 11:50 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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LeBron, Cavs outlast Hawks in Game 3.

LeBron James scored 37 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out 13 assists to lead the Cavaliers to an overtime victory over the Hawks, 114-111.

— In his first go-round with the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron James would have reacted differently to an ugly start.

Four years after leaving Cleveland high and dry, James came back to bring the city a championship. And he returned a changed man, one who is better qualified to fulfill that promise.

This LeBron James can take 10 straight missed shots in stride and just keep playing like the best player in the world with no mental hangups, no hesitation and no settling.

The result on Sunday was the first time in NBA playoff history that a player has racked up at least 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists, an unprecedented line that led the Cavs to a 114-111 overtime victory over the Atlanta Hawks in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals on Sunday. With a 3-0 series lead, Cleveland can complete the sweep in Game 4 on Tuesday.

Nightly Notable - LeBron James

LeBron James scored 37 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out 17 assists to lead the Cavaiiers to the Game 3 victory.

James didn't score his first points until there was 8:05 left in the second quarter and didn't make his first basket until a minute after that. He missed jumpers, runners, layups and tip-ins on his way to an 0-for-10 start.

He finished the game making just four of his 21 shots from outside the restricted area. As much as he's worked on his jumper over the years, it can still abandon him at times. He's 10-for-62 from 3-point range in the playoffs. He's not perfect.

But he's become so much stronger mentally, so much more comfortable with himself, and so much smarter about what is needed from him.

"My game is so much better than it was when I was younger," James said afterward. "Everything I've worked on over the course of the years and the mental side of the game, I just try to incorporate that on the floor, no matter if I'm making shots or missing shots or whatever the case may be."

Cavaliers on Game 3 victory

David Blatt, LeBron James and Matthew Dellavedova address the media after Sunday's Game 3 victory.

On occasion, there is still some questionable decision-making or passivity. But it's usually short-lived.

In the fourth quarter of Game 1, there was too much iso-ball, allowing a 14-point lead to get cut to four. In Game 3 on Sunday, James deferred a little too much as Atlanta came back from nine down to take a two-point lead in the fourth.

But for the majority of the game, James attacked, on pick-and-rolls, on isolations, in the post, and on the glass. His 16 shots in the restricted area were the most he's ever attempted in a playoff game. His eight offensive rebounds were a career high.

The Hawks showed some fight down 2-0, with Kyle Korver out for the postseason and with Al Horford getting ejected late in the second quarter. The Cavs, playing without Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, fought back.

"The guys are gritty," Blatt said. "They're not going to give in to anything."

And James wasn't going to give in to cramps and whatever undisclosed injuries he has. He said afterward that he's "playing through a lot."

After committing a foul and suffering leg pain in the first minute of overtime, James asked out of the game. Then he quickly changed his mind and found Tristan Thompson for a bucket that tied the game on the next possession.

He played through pain and he played through the cramping, and he just wouldn't let us lose.

– Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt on LeBron James

"At that point, I felt like I couldn't give more," James told TNT's Rachel Nichols afterward. "But then it was mind over matter. There's no way I could walk to the bench at that point, understanding the circumstances we were in."

"He knew that we could not win the game without him," Blatt added. "He played through pain and he played through the cramping, and he just wouldn't let us lose. Just would not let us lose. Amazing."

A few minutes later, one of those threes finally fell. And it gave the Cavs the lead for good with 36 seconds left in overtime.

It was another one of those games from James, though it looked like another one of those games early on. The only other time in his 171-game postseason career than James went scoreless in the first quarter was his infamous disappearing act in Game 5 of the 2010 conference semifinals against Boston, his last home game before fleeing for Miami.

That game had the Cavs one game from elimination. This one has them one game from The Finals.

"Can you imagine if he started quickly, what we would have seen out there tonight?" Blatt asked. "Holy smokes."

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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