EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - LeBron James came back just in time to make sure the New Jersey Nets couldn't.

James returned from a long stint on the bench to score 23 points, and the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time in 15 years by beating the Nets last night, 88-72.

Cleveland won the series by four games to two and heads to Detroit on Monday night for its third appearance in a conference finals and the first since 1992.

James, who added eight rebounds and eight assists, needed only four years to get the Cavs into the NBA's final four.

He got plenty of help in the clincher from reserves Donyell Marshall and Daniel Gibson, and the Cavs needed it because James spent most of the third quarter on the bench in foul trouble and Cleveland managed just eight points.

New Jersey cut what had been a 22-point deficit to one point, but with James back for the fourth quarter, the Nets never could take the lead.

Marshall scored 18 points and Gibson had eight. They had combined for 26 points total in the first five games of the series.

Jason Kidd had 19 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists for the Nets.

Spurs 114, Suns 106

SAN ANTONIO - Manu Ginobili scored 33 points as San Antonio defeated Phoenix to take the Western Conference semifinal, four games to two.

The Spurs will take on the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference final, beginning Sunday.

Rockets fire Van Gundy. Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy was dismissed, less than two weeks after the team made yet another first-round playoff exit.

The Rockets were 52-30 this season but lost to Utah in seven games, raising the possibility that Van Gundy was going to resign or be fired. This was the Rockets' third first-round loss in four seasons under Van Gundy.

Van Gundy, 45, had one nonguaranteed year left on his contract, meaning the team held the option to retain him. The team reportedly has contacted Rick Adelman, the former coach of Portland, Golden State and Sacramento.

The firing came days after 35-year-old general manager Daryl Morey took over for the retiring Carroll Dawson after the Rockets' playoff elimination.