Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and those wily San Antonio Spurs showed the kids a thing or two.
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No. 1 draft pick Anthony Davis fit right in for New Orleans in his pro debut, scoring 21 points with a dazzling variety of offensive moves, but the Spurs came through in the final minute for a 99-95 victory over the Hornets on opening night Wednesday.
Parker hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 49.6 seconds remaining, Duncan tacked on a couple of free throws and the Spurs celebrated at the end, having turned back a franchise that hopes to rebuild around a couple of rookies.
Davis and fellow first-round pick Austin Rivers both started for the Hornets, who fell to the bottom of the Western Conference last season after trading Chris Paul to the Clippers. Rivers struggled in his debut, going 1 of 9 from the field and finishing with just seven points.
Not so for Davis. Even with only one season of college, which he put to good use by leading Kentucky to a national title and earning player of the year honors, he showed no signs of being a tentative rookie.
”He’s only going to get better,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. ”I love him because he takes losing hard, the way I do. He’s in there feeling like it’s the end of the world. You can’t help but love guys who take it in the heart the way you do.”
Of course, considering how it was at Kentucky, this is going to take some getting used to. Davis and the Wildcats lost only two games last season. He’s halfway to that total with his new team.
”I’m just trying to play the game. Go out there and explore,” Davis said. ”If I don’t have shots, look for my teammates. And they were doing a great job of finding me in my sweet spots. All the credit goes to them really.”
He was admittedly nervous before his first real game as a pro, though it didn’t show.
”That’s just how I am,” Davis said. ”We can be playing against a high school team, it doesn’t matter. You want to perform well. You get amped up and nervous because you don’t know if you’re going to play well.”
Duncan scored 24 points and Parker added 23 for the Spurs, who trailed 91-87 after Davis hit two free throws with 2:42 remaining. Duncan erased the deficit all by himself, scoring off a drive, then grabbing a pass in the lane from Boris Diaw and powering inside for a dunk, despite getting fouled by Roger Mason. A free throw completed the three-point play and put the Spurs ahead with 1:48 left.
To their credit, the Hornets didn’t fold. Greivis Vasquez tossed up a lob that Davis dunked, putting New Orleans back ahead. Duncan responded, going over Ryan Anderson to tip in a missed shot.
After Davis made two free throws with 1:08 remaining to send New Orleans to its final lead, 95-94, the Spurs took control. San Antonio worked the ball with a series of quick passes until Parker broke free by the top of the arc. He connected with 49.6 seconds left for a go-ahead 3-pointer.
Vasquez missed an open 3, slapping his hands in disgust after the ball bounced off the front of the rim. Duncan grabbed the rebound, was quickly fouled and padded the lead with two free throws. Al-Farouq Aminu took one more 3, but it missed badly. The Spurs dribbled out the clock, showing they’re not ready to give in yet to a team such as the Hornets.
”Their youth and athleticism made it difficult for us,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. ”It’s a great group of guys, and it’s going to be a fun team to watch. If Timmy doesn’t do what he does, that’s a loss for us.”
Duncan and the Spurs tightened up defensively, and the 15-year veteran just refused to be denied at the offensive end.
”We put in some plays for him,” Popovich said, ”but it was just his determination down the stretch that got us the win.”
Rivers, the son of Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, said an ankle that bothered him during the preseason was just fine. But he played like a rookie, especially in the first half.
”I was thinking too much,” Rivers said. ”The second half, I just played. It was my first game. Now I know what to do and what not to do. That won’t happen again.”
Duncan schooled Davis right away, scoring a couple of quick baskets against the rookie. But school didn’t last long. Davis knocked down an 18-foot jumper from the baseline. Then he swished a 16-footer. By the end of his first quarter in the NBA, the kid had nine points and four rebounds, leading the Hornets to a 31-28 lead.
New Orleans stretched its advantage to 50-43 at halftime, but San Antonio dominated the early part of the third quarter to turn the deficit into a seven-point lead. New Orleans fought back, sending the game to the final period tied at 71. It was tight the rest of the way, neither team leading by more than four points.
The crowd of 15,358 was about 2,500 short of a sellout at New Orleans Arena, showing the Davis era has yet to totally capture the city’s imagination.
Give him time.
The Spurs don’t have a lot of time with their 30-something core – Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili – but let’s not forget they had the best record in the West a year ago. San Antonio was knocked off in the conference finals by youthful Oklahoma City and found itself a man down in the opener.
Ginobili wasn’t able to play because of back spasms.
The Hornets couldn’t quite take advantage of his absence.
”It was a great night,” Davis said. ”We all went out there and had fun. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to, but that’s a great Spurs team. We’re going to see them again, and it’s going to be another great game.”
Notes: The Hornets also were short-handed. G Eric Gordon remains out indefinitely after missing all of training camp with a sore left knee. … Aminu finished with 17 points and had a couple of highlight-reel dunks. … The teams were even on the boards, each finishing with 43 rebounds. … Davis had just one blocked shot, one of his big weapons at Kentucky.