LOS ANGELES: The Chicago Bulls upstaged LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, and league MVP Stephen Curry got his new campaign off to an emphatic start as the 2015-16 NBA season got under way.
With President Barack Obama among a delighted Chicago crowd, the Bulls toppled the Cavaliers 97-95 on Tuesday (Wednesday in Manila) in a thrilling opening night duel.
Derrick Rose finished with 18 points and five assists, as four of the Bulls’ five starters finished in double figures.
“I love our effort tonight. Who knows how good this team can be?” said Bulls guard Rose. “My teammates allowed me to play through my mistakes.”
Curry became the first reigning MVP in history to score 40 or more points on opening night as the Golden State Warriors began their title defense by thumping the New Orleans Pelicans 111-95. In the other contest, the Detroit Pistons dumped the Atlanta Hawks 106-94.
There was a moment of silence before the games in honor of Flip Saunders. The Minnesota Timberwolves coach and team president passed away on Sunday after battling cancer.
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 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 Warriors.
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 preseason after receiving an anti-inflammatory injection for his back. It was his second shot in the past 10 months.
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 their chances this year.
“If you got Butler and 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.”
Tuesday’s contest was a rematch of last year’s NBA quarterfinals playoff series, which Cleveland won in six games.
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 an evening of celebration for Golden State. The players received their 2014-15 championship rings in a pregame ceremony.
The Warriors, a 67-game winner in the regular season a year ago, won without coach Steve Kerr, who attended the ring ceremony but then headed to the Warriors locker room, where he rested an ailing back. Assistant Luke Walton coached the game.
Curry finished with 40 points, seven assists and six rebounds.
He nailed four three-pointers during a 24-point, first-quarter explosion, as the Warriors thrilled a crowd that had just taken its seats following the raising of the franchise’s championship banner.