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

”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