Celtics begin defence of title
Defending champions celebrate first win in season opener as Lakers beat Portland.
Last Modified: 29 Oct 2008 09:30 GMT

LeBron James of the Cavaliers is defended by Paul Pierce [GALLO/GETTY]
The Boston Celtics capped a night of celebration by opening the defence of their NBA crown with a rousing 90-85 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

In a pre-game ceremony, the Celtics heralded last season's 17th NBA title by raising the championship banner to the rafters and the players were then presented with their winner's rings.

Forward Paul Pierce, who has played his entire 10-season career with the team, was presented with the banner by several former Celtics' players.

Emotional celebration

"It's moments like these that you cherish," Pierce, who struggled to fight back tears several times during the ceremony, said.

"It's very emotional.

"I'm just glad I pulled it together in time so we could come out and play the game."

The NBA Finals MVP then helped his side overcome a seven-point halftime deficit to lead all scorers with 27 points.

LeBron James led the Cavaliers with 22.

The Cavaliers, who lost to the Celtics in a tight Eastern Conference semi-final series last season, did not watch the 20-minute ceremony as they opted to return to their dressing room after warming up.

However, Cleveland forward Anderson Varejao admitted that the atmosphere was a motivating factor for his team.

"Seeing that makes us hungry to go out and get a ring of our own," he said.

Kevin Garnett shows his muscle [GALLO/GETTY]
Costly turnovers

Pierce scored 11 of his points in the third quarter when Boston out-scored Cleveland 24-13 to open a four-point lead heading to the fourth quarter.

The Celtics held on to their advantage for the remainder of the contest, with James missing a driving layup with 41 seconds left and two free throws in the final 11 seconds.

Cleveland coach Mike Brown blamed his team's 21 turnovers for the loss.

"They're the NBA champions," Brown said.

"We're going to have to take it if we want it.

"We won't beat them by making that many mistakes. Good teams will beat you every time when you do that."

Rajon Rondo added 14 points for the Celtics and Leon Powe contributed 13 off the bench to make it a perfect night for the Celtics and their fans.

"Only one team in the world can have this night... and it's us," Boston coach Doc Rivers said.

"I'm glad we were able to complete the celebration with a win."

Kobe Bryant continues his good form[GALLO/GETTY]
Lakers 96, Portland Trail Blazers 76

Kobe Bryant delivered a master class to lift the Los Angeles Lakers to a 96-76 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

The inspirational league MVP registered 23 points, 11 rebounds and five assists as the Lakers launched their quest for a first NBA title since 2001-02 in triumphant style.

Spanish forward Pau Gasol contributed 15 points and Trevor Ariza 11 from the bench to hold off brief fightbacks by Portland early in the third and fourth quarters at a packed Staples Centre.

Forward Travis Outlaw top-scored for the visitors with 18 points but rookie centre Greg Oden, on his much-anticipated return from a year out because of a knee injury, left the game late in the first half with a sprained right foot.

Confident lead

With Gasol and veteran guard Derek Fisher leading the way against younger and more inexperienced opposition, the Lakers raced into a 24-14 lead after a scrappy first quarter.

Although the Western Conference champions stretched their advantage to 49-34 by half-time, they lost momentum early in the third quarter as Portland poured in seven unanswered points.

Roared on by chants of "MVP, MVP", Bryant responded in appropriate style with a superb three-pointer before notching two more with a hard drive to the basket.

Bryant, marshalling his team mates effectively on the counter-attack, finished the quarter with a tally of 13 points to help the Lakers establish a commanding 72-53 lead going into the final period.

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