CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James did all he could to downplay getting the No. 1 seed.
And then did everything he could to get it.
James scored 34 points with six rebounds and six assists in just three quarters, Kyrie Irving scored 35 and the Cleveland Cavaliers clinched the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs — and home-court advantage until the Finals — with a 109-94 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night.
James, who tried to dismiss the importance of finishing atop the East before the game, scored 19 in the third quarter and sat for just four of the first 36 minutes as he helped the Cavs finish atop the conference for the third time in team history.
A few weeks back, James announced he had shifted into postseason mode. He’s been unstoppable since.
“It’s just a feeling,” James said of a change in his focus and energy. “It’s not a game. It’s not a time of the month. It’s just a feeling and I know it, and I know when the switch needs to be turned for me and I was able to do that for my team.”
James finished 13 of 16 from the field, made all five free throws and delivered the kind of performance that has made him the world’s best all-around player.
“I hope he can keep it up,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said. “If he plays like this, man, we’re going to be tough to beat. He’s just taken it to a whole other level the last three or four weeks, playing at a very high level, shooting the ball very well, shooting it with confidence and also getting it to the basket.
“I like the LeBron I see right now.”
When James finally sat down late in the third, Irving made sure he didn’t have to come back in by scoring nine points in the first four minutes. Kevin Love added 14 rebounds for Cleveland, which will wrap up the regular season on Wednesday against Detroit — a possible first-round opponent.
Kent Bazemore scored 23 points and Jeff Teague had 21 for the Hawks, who came in holding the East’s No. 3 seed. Atlanta has lost seven in a row to Cleveland, which swept the Hawks in last year’s conference finals.
With Boston losing to Charlotte, the Hawks can finish no worse than fourth, meaning they’ll have home court in at least the first round.
“Credit to Cleveland,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer said. “They played well. Obviously a big night from Irving and James. It was a heck of a performance by those two guys.”
James has been saying his body feels as good as it has in years, and that he’s primed to make another run at ending Cleveland’s 52-year pro sports championship drought. In his past 10 games, James is averaging 28.4 points and shooting 63 percent from the field — nearly 52 percent on 3-pointers.
“It’s a mind switch,” he said of the rise in his shooting percentage. “I’ve been going to the gym even more, dialed in more on what needs to be done and what needs to be better.
“I’ve been in this league a long time and I know what I need to do for my game to be even more sharp, so I’m glad I was able to deliver and not just talk about it.”
Irving had a nice comeback after accepting much of the blame for turnovers late in Cleveland’s 105-102 loss at Chicago, which prevented the Cavs from locking up the top seed earlier. He sent a text to James saying he needed to be better.
“I had to take that responsibility,” he said. “I couldn’t go home without feeling like that fourth quarter could have gone different if I would have played better. So, I just learned from it, got in the gym and continued to work on my handle, work on my game and just came out tonight.”
Cavaliers guard Mo Williams made another visit to see Dr. James Andrews about his troublesome left knee. Williams has been slowed by the knee for months and could need surgery.
Hawks: Bazemore scored Atlanta’s first eight points and had 21 at halftime. … Al Horford scored 20 with 11 rebounds. … Atlanta’s nine-year streak making the playoffs is the longest in the East.
Cavaliers: G Iman Shumpert had his left knee drained over the weekend. Lue said he’s been told that Shumpert, who has been slowed by a variety of ailments the past two seasons, should be fine for the playoffs. Shumpert signed a four-year, $40 million contract last summer. … Lue said Tristan Thompson will be his starting center going forward, dropping Timofey Mozgov into a reserve role. Lue said, “I just wanted to” when asked to explain the decision.
Hawks: At Washington on Wednesday.
Cavaliers: Host Detroit on Wednesday.