CLEVELAND — LeBron James shook off an atrocious shooting start and withstood Atlanta's gritty comeback to record a triple-double, and the Cleveland Cavaliers moved within one win of the NBA Finals by beating the Hawks 114-111 in overtime on Sunday night to take a 3-0 series lead.
James missed his first 10 shots, but finished with 37 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists. The Cavs needed every single one of them to hold off the top-seeded Hawks, who fought Cleveland until the final seconds despite being without injured shooter Kyle Korver and losing Al Horford, who was ejected in the first half.
James hit a 3-pointer with 36.4 seconds left to put the Cavs ahead by one, and the superstar dropped a runner with 12.8 left to make it 114-111.
"He just wouldn't let us lose," coach David Blatt said.
Atlanta had two chances to tie it in the final seconds, but Shelvin Mack missed two 3-pointers.
When the final horn sounded, an exhausted James, who was favoring his right leg for most of overtime, dropped to the floor and had to be helped to his feet.
"I worked extremely hard and for me as a leader no matter how I'm feeling I've got to try to make some plays," James said.
He'll have just one day to rest up before the Cavs try to earn their second Finals trip — and the fifth in a row for James — in Game 4 on Tuesday night.
Jeff Teague scored 30 points and Paul Millsap 22 for the Hawks, who scratched and clawed for 53 minutes.
Down 10 in the fourth, the Hawks showed championship toughness and nearly pulled off a win that would have guaranteed them another home game on Thursday. They'll have to dig deep again, and they are facing long odds to win the series as no NBA team has ever overcome a 3-0 deficit.
Teague dropped a nasty, step-back jumper with 55 seconds left to put the Hawks up 111-109, but James answered — following an offensive rebound by Tristan Thompson — to knock down a corner 3 like the one he made at the buzzer to beat Chicago in the second round, making it 112-111 with 36.4 seconds left.
James then hit his runner over Millsap and the Cavs and 20,000 fans held their breath as Mack took two cracks at the rim.
The Cavs were again missing All-Star guard Kyrie Irving, sidelined for his second straight game with an injured left knee.
But Cleveland has James, and even on a night when his shot wasn't falling, he carried the Cavs, who can earn their first trip to the Finals since James took them there in 2007.
Matthew Dellavedova and J.R. Smith added 17 points apiece for Cleveland.
The Hawks took a one-point lead into third quarter when James decided to seize control of the game. He recorded 15 points, six rebounds and six assists in the period, but it only resulted in Cleveland having a 10-point lead early in the fourth.
Already in a bind, the Hawks were dealt another major blow when Horford was ejected in the final minute of the first half for throwing an elbow at Dellavedova's head.
As the two hustled for a loose ball on the floor, Dellavedova rolled up on Horford's right leg and the Atlanta big man responded by bringing his right arm down hard and appearing to connect with the side of the scrappy Australian guard's face.
The three officials took their time watching a review of the play before assessing Horford a Flagrant 2 and tossing him. At that point, Horford had been the Haws' best player with 14 points and without him they didn't have enough firepower to hang with the Cavs.
James went 0 for 9 from the field in the first quarter and didn't score his first point until he rolled in a free throw with 8:05 left in the second. His first field goal came 61 seconds later, and with his shot not falling, James seemed more intent on setting up his teammates than trying to score.
Dellavedova bailed his famous friend out in the first half, scoring 14 points and providing another hustle play that wound up hurting the Hawks.
Wearing a new knee brace, Irving was on the floor nearly three hours before tipoff working hard on his game. He made several quick cuts and drives to the basket, and it appeared he might be ready to give it a go after sitting out Game 2. But the Cavs announced he was sitting out 45 minutes before the game's start.
Without Korver, the Hawks were missing one of their most reliable offensive weapons, though the dead-eyed shooter had been off the mark during much of this postseason. He was replaced in the starting lineup by Kent Bazemore, who earlier in the day stood by his comments that he believed the Hawks were the better team.
He didn't do any talking in the minutes leading up the game, but sat quietly facing his locker and listening to his headphones while his teammates dressed.
On a white board in Atlanta's locker room, the Hawks were urged to "Play with pace — play with pass — together."
They started well, getting eight points from Horford while taking a 12-4 lead. But his ejection was costly and the Hawks are now one loss from having their season end.
Hawks: Atlanta shot better from the outside, but is just 21 of 79 on 3-pointers in the series. ... The Hawks went 28 of 32 from the line.
Cavaliers: James has 12 postseason career triple-doubles. ... Since Jan. 19, the Cavs are 25-2 at home.