NEW ORLEANS — Eric Gordon was playing his first game at New Orleans Arena since returning from a knee injury, and Tuesday was the start of a new year.
However, things looked much the same as before, as the Hornets fell to the Atlanta Hawks 95-86.
Coming off an impressive performance against Charlotte on Saturday, Gordon had his moments but scored just 11 points on 5-of-17 shooting. Bigger problems were some old standbys — turnovers that short-circuited runs, a dreadful third quarter and ineffective pick-and-roll defense. And New Orleans shot a franchise-low 33 percent (4-of-12) on free throws.
The loss came after the Hornets (7-24) had won two of its past three games in getting past an 11-game losing streak. Atlanta (20-10), blown out Monday at Houston, won for the fifth time in six games. The Hawks were led by their athletic front court, as power forward Josh Smith had 23 points and 13 rebounds and center Al Horford 20 points. Center Zaza Pachulia came off the bench for 12 points and 10 rebounds and perhaps, most important, six big offensive rebounds.
“Their bigs just dominated the game,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “Our bigs were lacking mentally on defense, and when we made stops, there were times we didn’t get the rebound.”
The Hornets had trouble stopping the Hawks’ pick and roll with guard Jeff Teague and Horford, but trailed just 84-82 with 4:14 left. However, Kyle Korver, who nagged the Hornets all game with 4-of-7 shooting on 3-pointers, was left open for a big one when Roger Mason, who was guarding him, cheated into the lane to help on the pick and roll.
From there, Teague drove and dished to Smith for a dunk at 3:04, and Horford, who had Vasquez on him after a pick and roll, muscled in for a basket at 2:25.
Meanwhile, the Hornets had gotten their last basket at 2:45 when Ryan Anderson, who had a team-high 23 points, including five 3-pointers, made a spinning move in the lane at 2:45 to cut it to 89-86. After that, Atlanta scored the game’s last six points — four by Horford — to salt the victory away.
The third quarter again was the big difference, with New Orleans being outscored 28-14 after taking a 50-44 halftime lead.
Just when it appeared the Hornets were pulling away in the third — leading 53-44 at 11:09 — Korver sank a 3-pointer from the right corner. Then guards Austin Rivers and Vasquez each made a turnover.
Smith, who had gotten Atlanta off and running in the second quarter, was at it again, making consecutive jumpers as the Hawks took the lead 57-55. The teams went back and forth until the last 1:17, when, with Atlanta ahead 66-62, Pachulia sank two free throws, then Smith made a spinning shot in the lane at the 48.2-second mark. Pachulia got a big offensive rebound with 10 seconds left, then scored in the lane with 1.6 showing, as the Hawks ended the third with a 72-64 lead.
“We had a letdown in the first two quarters,” Smith said. “I wanted to come out with energy and effort. We changed our coverage because Anderson was so open in the first half, and that made it easier to get to their shooters.”
Smith’s layup at 5:52 of the second quarter gave the Hawks their first lead, 32-31, as Atlanta went on a 10-2 run. However, the Hornets responded with a 9-2 burst capped by Mason’s 3-pointer off a fast break for a 40-34 lead.
Anderson, who scored 13 points in the first half, got five quick points to keep Atlanta at bay. Anthony Davis’ dunk of a missed drive by Gordon with 11.4 seconds left kept the Hornets in charge at 50-44.
New Orleans shot 44.7 percent in the half, including 7-of-11 on 3-pointers, led by Anderson’s 3-of-6. Davis had nine of his game-high tying 13 rebounds, and the Hornets outrebounded the Hawks 31-23. Davis also had three of his four blocks in the half.
Atlanta shot 40.8 percent, including 4-of-14 on 3-pointers.