CHICAGO (AP) – Nikola Mirotic scored 19 points and Derrick Rose added 18 to lead the Chicago Bulls to a season-opening 97-95 victory over LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers with President Barack Obama watching on Tuesday night.
Pau Gasol blocked a potential tying layup by James in the closing seconds. Jimmy Butler then broke up an inbounds pass intended for James as time expired.
The president sat courtside for most of the game as his beloved Bulls knocked off the defending Eastern Conference champions and gave coach Fred Hoiberg a narrow win in his first game.
James scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds for Cleveland, but the Cavaliers came up short against the team they knocked out in the conference semifinals last season.
The Bulls, playing a more open offense with Hoiberg than they did under Tom Thibodeau, did not exactly light it up. But they came away with a promising win.
Rose, playing with a mask to protect his fractured left orbital, shot just 8 of 22 after missing almost the entire preseason.
Mirotic nailed three 3-pointers and came up big down the stretch.
Butler added 17 points and two steals to go with that deflected pass for Chicago.
The Cavaliers got 19 points and seven assists from Mo Williams, filling in while Kyrie Irving recovers from a fractured left kneecap. Kevin Love added 18 points and eight rebounds.
The Cavaliers took an 83-82 lead on a floater by James with 5:32 left in the game.
Mirotic immediately converted a three-point play after getting fouled by Tristan Thompson on a baseline floater. That started an 11-2 run that put Chicago back on top 93-85 with 2:42 left.
But just when it looked like the lead was safe, the Cavaliers came roaring back again.
Love nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to make it 97-95 with 33 seconds remaining. After a miss by Rose with 10 seconds remaining, a driving James got stuffed by Gasol.
The ball bounced out along the baseline, and Butler broke up the inbounds, preserving a tight victory for Chicago.
Obama, in his hometown to speak to the International Association of Chief of Police and attend a Democratic fundraiser, had not sat courtside to watch the Bulls since they visited the Washington Wizards in February 2009.
But with his favorite team taking on the best player on the planet in a rematch of last season’s second round, Obama decided to take in this game.
Secret Service agents started blanketing the United Center in the morning and all eyes turned toward the tunnel as Obama entered the arena late in the first quarter. He greeted some people at courtside as he made his way to his seat opposite the scorer’s table.
TIP-INS: There was a moment of silence before the game in honor of Flip Saunders. The Minnesota Timberwolves coach and team president died Sunday after battling cancer. … The Bulls have won five straight season openers at the United Center.
Cavaliers: Visits Memphis on Wednesday.
Bulls: Visit Brooklyn on Wednesday.
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