Spurs 106, Hornets 92
George Hill had a tough defensive assignment in trying to slow emerging Hornets rookie Darren Collison.
Hill decided to make it tough for Collison to stay with him on the other end, scoring a team-leading 23 points as the San Antonio Spurs beat New Orleans 106-92 on Monday night.
``George has been great all year long. He's a big part of what we do and he's just finding his rhythm,'' said Spurs center Tim Duncan, who added 22 points and nine rebounds. ``He knows where he's supposed to be. We ask him to go out there and guard their best player, their most active player and he does that on nightly basis. He's a big part of what we do and when he plays well like that, we play well.''
Hill, who came in averaging 11.5 points, created easy layups for himself by moving constantly without the ball and cutting inside behind New Orleans' defense. He also ran the floor well for points in transition and was accurate from the perimeter, shooting 9 of 13 overall and 3 of 4 from 3-point range.
His performance helped the Spurs take another step toward solidifying their playoff credentials with a second win in two nights.
``Every game means something right now,'' Hill said. ``I'm just trying to give all I can to help my team try to win. ... That's my job, just to give them everything on both ends of the floor.''
Collison, who has been thriving since being elevated to a starting role because of Chris Paul's left knee injury, was coming off a career-high, 35-point outing in New Orleans' loss at Dallas on Sunday night.
The Western Conference rookie of the month for February managed only 10 points against San Antonio, but was still effective with 15 assists.
``He was able to find others, but you had to try to take something away,'' Hill said. ``We wanted to try to take away some of the scoring, just try to make it tough for him.''
The loss was the Hornets' fourth in five games, dropping New Orleans (31-30) four games behind Portland for the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot.
Tony Parker had 18 points for the Spurs (34-24), who shot 51 percent and led by 20 in the third quarter before holding on without much drama.
Rookie shooting guard Marcus Thornton was 6 of 7 from 3-point range - a career high for 3s in a game - and scored 30 points for New Orleans. Emeka Okafor scored 18 points and David West added 13 for the Hornets, who never led in the final three quarters.
Thornton was 12 of 19 and scored 20 of the Hornets' last 29 points, but didn't have the help that Hill got from the Spurs.
``We're not matching the intensity of the opponent,'' Thornton said. ``Good teams are going to go on runs. We just have to find a way to be more aggressive on defense.''
Manu Ginobili had 13 points and eight assists for San Antonio, while Richard Jefferson and Matt Bonner each scored 10.
Parker tormented New Orleans early in the second half, hitting a 20-foot jumper and three driving layups during a 12-1 run, which Duncan capped with a jumper that put San Antonio up 70-50 with 7:40 left in the third quarter.
New Orleans kept it interesting a little longer with a 13-0 run during the next 4:30. West's driving layup as he was fouled got it as close as 78-73 in the final minute of the third quarter, but Bonner hit a jumper as time expired in the period. Ginobili then opened the fourth quarter with a 3 and Jefferson followed with a jumper, quickly stretching the Spurs' lead back to 85-73.
Hill added another 3 to make it 104-89 with 2:25 left, sending fans to the exits.
``Obviously the Spurs play very efficient basketball and they're not going to beat themselves,'' Hornets coach Jeff Bower said. ``In the fourth (quarter), they had answers to keep the game under control.''
NOTES: The Spurs were playing their first game since granting reserve swingman Michael Finley's request to be waived so he could try to find a more prominent role on another team. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he was surprised Finley asked to leave. ... San Antonio has won all three meetings between these teams this season. They play once more Friday night in San Antonio. ... Rickey Jackson, who last month became the first New Orleans Saints player elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, sat courtside near the Hornets' bench. The former linebacker wore a black Hall of Fame baseball-style cap.