The bad news for the Atlanta Hawks was that a disastrous fourth quarter made the game feel like last year's four straight playoff losses to the Cavaliers.
Cleveland held Atlanta scoreless for almost nine minutes to open the fourth quarter and scored the first 10 points of the period to break open a close game and beat the Hawks 95-84 on Tuesday night.
The sellout crowd of 20,150 set a Philips Arena regular-season record. Hawks fans booed every time James touched the ball, but the Cavaliers controlled the final period to earn their fifth straight win.
Cleveland has held three straight opponents under 90 points.
"That's what we do," James said. "It's an ongoing thing. Defensively, we lock down in the fourth quarter. That's where games are won. That's where games are decided."
Mo Williams had 20 points to lead the Cavaliers in their first game against the Hawks since sweeping four games in the second round of last season's playoffs.
"A lot of teams are trying to force me to pass the ball, which is OK," James said. "I have guys that can make shots. A lot of teams don't think my guys can make plays out on the court. And I'm OK with that, because I have a lot of faith in my teammates."
The Hawks were outscored 20-10 in the fourth quarter.
The teams play again Wednesday night in Cleveland.
"We have to go to Cleveland and see what we're made of," Hawks coach Mike Woodson said.
Cleveland coach Mike Brown, who didn't like his team's 18 turnovers, called the game ugly before adding "but you have to win ugly games."
The Hawks, who fell to 12-3 at home, scored only 33 points in the second half.
The Cavaliers led 75-74 entering the final period and stretched the lead to 85-74 before Josh Smith finally ended the Hawks' drought that lasted 8:48 by scoring with 3:12 remaining. The Hawks were 0 for 10 from the field in the period before the basket.
"We just had a lid on the bucket," Smith said. "They weren't doing anything special defensively. ... We had shots we normally make and kept missing them."
When asked if the Cavaliers were going for a shutout in the period, James said "Yeah. Tried to."
Frustrations grew on the Atlanta bench during the long scoreless streak. Woodson was called for a technical foul by official Leroy Richardson after complaining about a foul call against Smith with 7:55 remaining in the game.
With 4:40 remaining, Woodson looked to the scorer's table and asked, "Have we scored this period?" He smiled sadly when his fears were confirmed.
"It was as disheartening as it ever could be," Smith said.
Added Woodson: "I don't know how to even begin to explain it. ... We didn't execute. We threw the ball all over the place."
Johnson, who averages 21.4 points, made only 5 of 14 shots from the field. He scored only four points after the first period.
"It was team defense," Brown said. "I thought our guys sent Joe the correct direction when he drove the basketball. I thought our help was there at the right time and we came across and we were physical without fouling."
Crawford scored 17 of the Hawks' 25 points in the second period, including his third 3-pointer of the period only two seconds before halftime. But the Cavaliers beat the Hawks on a fast-break basket, with James scoring at the buzzer on a pass from Jamario Moon.
The basket gave James only seven points in the half.
Smith drew his second foul with 1:24 remaining in the opening period and played only three minutes in the second period. He had 15 points and eight rebounds.
- The Hawks set a season low for any quarter with the 10 points in the fourth period.
- Ilgauskas passed Brad Daugherty for second place on Cavaliers' all-time scoring list. He needed five points for 10,390 to pass Daugherty.
- Shaquille O'Neal had 10 points and eight rebounds.