Duncan scores 24 for S.A.; Davis gets 21 points, seven rebounds
NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Hornets, behind their youthful exuberance, tried hard to get the season off with a bang.
But the San Antonio Spurs had two old reliable veterans, and each came up with huge plays down the stretch, as the Spurs overcame the Hornets 99-95 Wednesday at New Orleans Arena in the season opener for both Southwest Division teams.
Power forward Tim Duncan and point guard Tony Parker, who have won two NBA titles together, were not to be denied, as San Antonio forged ahead after trailing by four in the game’s the final 2:42, then held off the Hornets.
New Orleans led 91-87 with 2:42 remaining after two free throws by rookie forward Anthony Davis.
But Duncan drove hard for a basket, then came back and scored on a three-point play — a dunk and free throw — that gave the Spurs the lead with 1:43 left. And after Anthony Davis dunked a lob from Greivis Vasquez, Duncan tipped in his own miss to once again give the Spurs the lead.
“I thought the curl to the basket was vintage Tim,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “Then he got the dunk and the and-one (three-point play), and I think we hung our heads a little bit.”
The back-breaker came with 49.6 seconds left when Parker sank a 3-pointer off a pass from Kawhi Leonard, who had driven to the basket before kicking the ball out. Parker had 23 points, six assists and no turnovers.
As they’ve done so many times, the Spurs, who won the division last year and tied for the best record in the league, clamped down on defense the rest of the way. Duncan, who had 24 points and 11 rebounds, sealed it with two free throws after rebounding Vasquez missed 3-point try with 24 seconds left and getting fouled by Mason.
“It was the combination of our defense and Tim’s play down the stretch,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. “Tim was amazing.”
But the Hornets had plenty reasons to be proud. Davis, playing in his first regular-season game and against a marquee team, had a team-high 21 points. Small forward Al-Farouq Aminu, who had struggled in preseason before picking it up in the last game, had 17 points and several highlight-reel plays in a solid all-around game. And, Vasquez, who had battled turnovers in the preseason, had a strong outing, with 13 assists and just two turnovers going against one of the game’s best point guards.
Davis came away encouraged by the play of his team, which learned earlier Wednesday that starting shooting guard Eric Gordon would be sidelined indefinitely with a sore right knee.
“Even when we were down, we stuck together and fought back, and that’s a good sign for a young team,” Davis said. “So we’ll be ready Friday against the (Utah) Jazz.”
The young Hornets battled the Spurs toe-to-toe for the whole game, heading into the fourth quarter tied at 71.
The score was tied eight times and there were nine lead changes before Parker sank his 3-pointer. It was the only 3-pointer of the game for Parker, a career 31 percent shooter on 3-pointers.
New Orleans particularly showed its determination in the third quarter, one that had haunted them in the preseason. After fighting hard to gain a 50-43 halftime lead, New Orleans found itself trailing 62-55 midway through the third quarter after Leonard put on his personal show, making four outstanding plays that turned a 54-53 Hornets lead into a 62-55 Spurs advantage.
But the Hornets fought back, outscoring San Antonio 16-9 the rest of the way behind forward Ryan Anderson, who had five rebounds in the quarter and sank a key 3-point shot.
Pushing the ball at every opportunity, the Hornets broke free of the Spurs in the second quarter with a 13-3 run from 9:21 to the 4:51 mark. Six Hornets scored in the run, as New Orleans played aggressively.
However, with New Orleans leading 50-40, Spurs forward Matt Bonner sank a 3-pointer with .01 seconds left, cutting the lead to seven.
“I thought the play that really changed the momentum was Bonner’s 3 before the half,” Williams said.
“We are in a situation where we … miss an assignment, he gets a 3, and instead of being up by 10, we are up by seven. Those kinds of plays happen to young guys.
“I thought we played hard. I thought our desire was there, we stuck together. We got down a little bit, but young guys do that. I thought we were pretty good; we just played a better team tonight.”