Obama's joy as Bulls stun James and Cavaliers

CHICAGO • The Chicago Bulls upstaged LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 97-95 on Tuesday in a thrilling opening-night duel as the 2015-2016 National Basketball Association season got under way.

With US 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. "We could be really good."

The only Chicago starter who did not 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 scores 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 scored 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.

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."

Mr Obama, a Bulls fan, said that he was optimistic about the Bulls' 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.

He also said he is pleased Chicago are 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," he said.

Tuesday's contest was a rematch of last year's NBA quarter-final playoff series, which Cleveland won in six games.

In the regular season, however, the Bulls have got the better of James since 2009-10. They are 13-11 after Tuesday's result, with three other teams - Boston (13-10), Denver (6-5) and Utah (6-5) - also boasting winning records against the superstar.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2015, with the headline 'Obama's joy as Bulls stun James and Cavaliers'. Print Edition | Subscribe