Paul, Hornets drop Spurs to reach 3-0

Tony Parker began the day by signing a $50 million contract

extension. He ended it on the bench in the fourth quarter, watching

Chris Paul and the New Orleans Hornets remain unbeaten.

Paul scored 25 points and New Orleans emerged as the only

undefeated team in the Southwest Division, beating the San Antonio

Spurs 99-90 Saturday night for a 3-0 start under first-year coach

Monty Williams.

Any pressure to keep this up?

”You don’t have to tell me. I’m too young for all this stuff,”

said Williams, pointing to his goatee. ”This thing will be white

by the time the season is over with.”

Williams beat his former coach and mentor, Gregg Popovich, who

benched Parker and Tim Duncan after a miserable third quarter that

ended with the Spurs trailing 76-60 after being down just one point

at halftime.

The bench is probably not where Parker imagined he would be

after agreeing to a four-year extension hours earlier.

But instead of Parker and Paul facing off in the fourth quarter

in a matchup of three-time All-Stars, Parker sat while Paul blew

past George Hill on a crossover dribble and hit a tough running

bank shot to seal the win with 49.7 seconds left.

”Man, you have no clue how good it feels to play basketball

again,” said Paul, who missed 37 games last season after surgery

on his right knee. ”Last year sitting on the sidelines, you hear

all this different stuff, and you just want to compete. This is

what I do.”

Parker finished with 13 points and missed five of his last six

shots. He did not speak to reporters after the game.

Paul, saying he knows how Popovich works, wasn’t surprised by

Parker and Duncan sitting in the fourth in favor of an energized

second-unit that eventually cut the deficit to three. That included

Gary Neal, a rookie who logged just 1 minute in San Antonio’s

opener but played the entire fourth period against the Hornets.

Manu Ginobili, who led the Spurs with 23 points, has been with

Popovich long enough to know he’ll stick with the group that

works.

”What made it tough,” Ginobili said, ”was that it was both

Tim and Tony out.”

Duncan finished with seven points on 2 of 10 shooting.

”If a group is rolling, Pop is going to keep with that group

until the car stops,” said Hill, who shot 2 of 7 and finished with

six points.

The Hornets are off to their fourth 3-0 start in the last five

years, this time after a summer spent picking up two products of

the Spurs’ system to make New Orleans competitive again. Williams

played and coached as an assistant under Popovich, and new general

manager Dell Demps was plucked from the Spurs’ front office.

The way New Orleans shut down San Antonio defensively in the

third quarter, it looked as though the Hornets took Popovich’s most

valued fundamental with them. After leading for nearly the entire

first half, the Spurs shot 6 of 24 in the third.

David West had 18 points and Marcus Thornton added 17 off the

bench for the Hornets.

It was the first 20-point game of the season for Paul, who was 8

of 15 from the floor. He also had five assists.

Richard Jefferson scored 18 points for the Spurs, including 10

in the fourth.

The Hornets beat the Spurs for the first time in five tries,

including getting swept by San Antonio last season.

”Am I surprised? No, I’m not surprised,” Paul said of the

Hornets’ unbeaten start. ”I like it, but I’m not surprised.”

Notes: Williams said he’s still not set on the Hornets’ rotation

despite their strong start, saying New Orleans still needs rookie

Quincy Pondexter in the mix. … Spurs F Matt Bonner is expected to

be out through at least next week with a right ankle

sprain.