Pau Gasol denied LeBron James with a king-sized rejection in the closing seconds of the first game of the NBA season Tuesday when the Chicago Bulls defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 97-95 at the United Center.
James was seeking his 27th point of the contest, and more importantly, the game-tying field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. James drove down the right lane and began to release the ball off his long fingertips until the seven-foot Spaniard met him at the top of his release with some long fingertips of his own.
The ball was knocked out of bounds with 3.6 ticks left on the clock. The Cavaliers maintained possession. Cleveland’s summer guard acquisition Mo Williams had to inbound the basketball into a swarm of Bulls defenders who were stuck to James like glue.
After not being able to get free, James ran away from the ball to the top of the key. Williams would then force a pass to the two-time champion. However, the ball never reached James because Bulls small forward Jimmy Butler intercepted the pass and ended the game on the spot.
The game had a fantastic ending, however NBA fans must have been disappointed that James could not get his hands on the ball during the final seconds. LeBron haters missed another possible choking rant, and LeBron lovers missed another potential buzzer beater.
However, Bulls fans were excited with the stellar defense that was displayed down the stretch of the fourth quarter. They managed to hold a high-powered offense to under 100 points, while also stopping the best player in the world on two straight possessions. Former Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau would have been proud.
So what does this game mean going forward? Essentially nothing. It is game one of an 82-game season. The teams will review tape, practice and move on with their lives. However, just because the game did not mean much, it doesn’t mean there were not things to take away from the game.
Chicago’s power forward Nikola Mirotic had an excellent game. He scored 19 points on 6 of 11 shooting. Another obvious good sign for Chicago was that Derrick Rose appeared to be back in all-star shape. Rose notched 18 points in 32 minutes on 8 of 22 shooting.
The biggest takeaway for the Cavaliers was the impressive guard play from Williams. The twelve-year veteran scored 19 points while also dishing out seven assists. Remember, Williams was a big part of the Cavaliers lineup during James’ first run with the team.
However, Williams did not pan out come playoff time back then because he could not consistently step up as Lebron’s ‘Robin’ every single night. Luckily for him, that job now belongs to Kyrie Irving.
The road to this year’s NBA finals will most likely go through Cleveland, but the most important factor will be the health of the Bulls. The Bulls have been banged up for the past four seasons and yet they still have given teams a run for their money every night they play. If they are healthy, they can be a very dangerous team. The Cavaliers learned that Tuesday night.
Eddie Leonard is a staff writer for The Daily Campus, covering UConn men’s soccer. He tweets @EddieLeonard23.