CLEVELAND, United States, Oct 26 – LeBron James notched a triple-double as the Cleveland Cavaliers launched the defence of their National Basketball Association crown with a 117-88 blowout of the New York Knicks on Tuesday.
Kyrie Irving topscored with 29 points but NBA Finals MVP James stole the show with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 14 assists on a night when the Cavs were formally presented with their 2015-2016 championship rings.
James was de facto master of ceremonies before the tip-off as the Cavs hoisted the championship banner from their epic 2015-2016 season, which culminated in the historic comeback victory over Golden State in the finals in June.
A packed house at the Quicken Loans Arena roared their appreciation on a night when Cleveland became the epicenter of the US sporting universe — the city’s Indians baseball team were hosting the Chicago Cubs in Game One of the World Series at the same time.
News of the Indians’ opening runs against the Cubs were greeted with deafening cheers and chants of “Let’s Go Tribe!” throughout the game.
James, who returned to the Cavaliers in 2014 on a mission to lead his hometown team to NBA glory, issued a stirring rallying cry during the pre-match ceremonies.
“If you’re not from here, live here, play here, or get yourself to Cleveland, then it makes no sense for you to live at this point,” James said.
“Cleveland against the world!”
– ‘Unbelievable atmosphere’ –
Each of the victorious Cavs players, coaches, front-office and owners were presented with diamond-encrusted 6.5 carat rings to mark last season’s win, which ended Cleveland’s 52-year wait for a major US sporting title.
“It was a great moment, to be able to relive our accomplishment from last year one more time, something that’s always going to be with us. It was an unbelievable atmosphere tonight,” James said after the win.
With the Quicken Loans Arena in party mode, the Cavaliers were in a buoyant mood against a new-look Knicks side who handed starts to summer signings Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
The Cavs quickly jumped out to an early lead, with Kevin Love’s superb three-pointer putting them 28-18 up as the buzzer sounded for the end of the first period.
But the Knicks rallied in the second period and turned around at half-time only two points down, trailing 44-42.
The Cavs rapidly turned the screw in the second half, pulling clear once more to run out convincing winners.
“I just tried to pick up where I left off last year and try and get my body back into form,” James said of his own performance.
“We’ve got a great team, we were a little rusty in the first half with some careless turnovers in the second quarter. But we sharpened up in the third and fourth quarter and it was a good win for us.”
James said the Cavs were now intent on delivering more success for the franchise’s fans after last season’s breakthrough.
“We want to keep ’em on that high horse. We want to keep our fans on cloud 20. If we can do that we’ve done our job,” he told a television interviewer.