The Chicago Bulls upstaged Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 97-95 on Tuesday in a thrilling opening night duel as the 2015-2016 NBA season got under way.
With President Barack Obama among a delighted Chicago crowd, Derrick Rose finished with 18 points and five assists as four of the Bulls’ five starters finished in double figures.
“Who knows how good this team can be?” said Bulls guard Rose.
The only Chicago starter that didn’t shoot in double figures was Pau Gasol but the Spaniard made his presence known with six blocks including a key denial of Cavaliers talisman James with three seconds left that helped secure the victory.
Cleveland had another chance to tie the score as time expired but guard Jimmy Butler broke up a Cavs’ inbound pass to James, ending the game between the two top rated clubs in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
Nikola Mirotic had 19 points, Butler delivered 17 points while Tony Snell and E’Twaun Moore each scored 11 for the Bulls, who gave their new head coach Fred Hoiberg his first NBA win.
James tallied a game-high 25 points and 10 rebounds, Mo Williams finished with 19 points and Kevin Love scored 18 for the Cavaliers who lost in the NBA Finals in six games last season to the Golden State Warriors.
In the other early game Tuesday, the Detroit Pistons dumped the Atlanta Hawks 106-94. The Warriors began their title defence by hosting the New Orleans Pelicans in the night contest.
There was a moment of silence before the games in honour of Flip Saunders. The Minnesota Timberwolves coach and team president passed away on Sunday after battling cancer.
James said after the game that he struggled with his conditioning during the first and third quarters. He sat out for most of the past two weeks of pre-season after receiving an anti-inflammatory injection for his back.
He credited Gasol for getting the better of him on the clutch block.
“I made myself very small in my finish,” said James. “Pau was having a great game, and he made a great play.”
Meanwhile Bulls’ fan Obama said that he was optimistic about the Bulls’ chances this year.
“If you got (Jimmy) Butler and (Derrick) Rose you have to make sure you get the ball into the paint so they can do what they do creatively,” he told a TNT television interviewer.
Obama also said he is pleased Chicago is in the Eastern Conference because the West is “stacked”.
“These are the two top teams in the east. In the west it is a free for all. I am glad my Bulls are in the east,” said Obama.
Tuesday’s contest was a rematch of last year’s NBA quarter-final playoff series which Cleveland won in six games.
The Cavaliers and the Bulls are again considered to be the Eastern Conference’s top teams but they enter the new campaign looking for more stability.
The Bulls have a new coach in Hoiberg and an ageing former star in Rose who is having trouble staying healthy, while Cleveland is coming off a jumbled preseason.
Chicago’s Joakim Noah came off the bench Tuesday after Hoiberg replaced him in the starting lineup with Mirotic, who picked up right where he left off after an outstanding rookie season last year.
Former league MVP Rose wore a protective mask after missing most of the pre-season because of a broken left orbital bone. It is just the latest in a long list of injuries Rose has battled in recent years.
“It was great to see,” Hoiberg said of Rose’s performance. “For the most part, he was very aggressive driving to the hole.”
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