Kyrie Irving scored 19 of his 29 points in a decisive third quarter as the Cleveland Cavaliers began the defence of their first NBA championship with a 117-88 win over the New York Knicks in the season opener.

Superstar LeBron James had a triple-double with 19 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds for the Cavaliers in Cleveland, who received their commemorative rings and raised their championship banner to the rafters of Quicken Loan Arena in a pre-game ceremony.

Last season's title ended a 52-year championship drought for Cleveland's three major pro sports teams.

"This night, none of us will ever forget," James said.

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Once the game began, the Cavaliers squandered most of a double-digit advantage in the first half and held just a 48-45 lead at intermission.

But Cavs point guard Irving was unstoppable in the third period, making eight out of his 10 shots, including three three-pointers, as Cleveland built an 82-64 lead entering the final quarter.

Derrick Rose showed explosiveness at times and scored 17 points in his first game with the Knicks, who have lost seven straight meetings with the Cavs.

A former Most Valuable Player, Rose was acquired in an off-season trade with the Chicago Bulls.