By John Delong, The Sports Xchange
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - It didn't take long for Eric Gordon to make an impact on the New Orleans Hornets.
In his season debut after missing the first 29 games with an injured right knee, Gordon led the way as the Hornets rallied from a 21-point first-half deficit and beat the Charlotte Bobcats 98-95.
Gordon scored a game-high 24 points in 24 minutes off the bench, and was at his best down the stretch making plays and setting up others. He hit a huge 3-pointer, and set up Ryan Anderson for two others and Roger Mason another in the final six minutes.
"I didn't expect that kind of game right off the bat, but I certainly thought that he would be able to help guys and make guys better, and that's what he did," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "Eric has that ability to make plays and make guys better."
"He made a huge difference," Mason said. "He's a big part of our team. He's a presence out there even when he's not scoring. When you've got shooters on the floor it makes it easier for him, and he makes it easier for us."
Gordon said he felt a little bit rusty shooting the ball, but was pleased with his all-around play. He was 5 of 13 from the field, 12 of 14 from the free-throw line, and dished out seven assists.
"It was good to be out there with the guys again and we had a lot of fun," Gordon said. "It was all about playmaking down the stretch. When you're coming back from 21 points down, it comes down to playmaking, not making any turnovers, hitting the open shot. You've got to use what you have and we did that tonight."
The victory was New Orleans' second this season over the Bobcats and raised their record to 7-23. After a recent 11-game losing streak, the Hornets have now won two of their last three.
"To come back from 21 down on the road on a back-to-back after an overtime game last night, it just says a lot about our team, that they stuck it out tonight," Williams said. "As the old story goes, you're never out of it in the NBA. I mean, every time you play this game you've got a chance to win, even if you're down 25 or 30. A three-ball and good defense can change things pretty quickly."
Besides Gordon's 24, the Hornets got 19 points from Anderson, 16 from Greivis Vasquez, and 13 (all in the second half) from Mason.
New Orleans trailed 54-33 late in the first half and 57-40 at halftime. The Hornets outscored Charlotte 33-16 in the third quarter to tie at 73-73 going into the fourth quarter. Leading 87-86 entering the final three minutes, they went on an 8-0 run, as Anderson hit a 3-pointer with 1:31 remaining and Mason followed with a triple with 47.4 seconds left for a 95-86 lead.
Charlotte stormed back with a 3-pointer from Gerald Henderson and a steal and layup by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in a 12-second span, and eventually had a chance to tie. But Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions both missed 3-pointers in the final nine seconds.
"I didn't think we played with any passion in the first half," Williams said. "I thought we were looking for excuses to bail out. I challenged the guys at halftime and I think they did some challenging, too. I wasn't the only one talking. We just felt like we needed to follow our game plan, because we hadn't done that. It's easy to say we made some adjustments, but the fact is the guys just stepped up in a tough situation."
Kidd-Gilchrist led the Bobcats with 22 points and nine rebounds, including 18 points in the first half. He was limited in the second half after getting kicked in the face while diving for a loose ball late in the first half and suffered a scratched cornea.
"We were not as aggressive in the second half as in the first," Kidd-Gilchrist said. "I think that's what happened. We weren't attacking enough."
The Bobcats also got 19 points from Henderson, 15 from Kemba Walker, 14 from Ben Gordon and 12 points and 10 rebounds from Hakim Warrick.
The Bobcats, also 7-23, have now lost 18 straight.
NOTES: To make room for Eric Gordon, the Hornets deactivated rookie forward Darius Miller. ... There is strong public sentiment in Charlotte to bring back the nickname Hornets after New Orleans becomes the Pelicans next season. However, Bobcats officials have not given any indication that it could actually happen. ... The Bobcats' losing streak started on Nov. 26 in a 114-69 loss at Oklahoma City. The franchise record is 23 straight losses, to close out last season. ... The Bobcats were without Byron Mullens for the third straight game because of a sprained left ankle, and Coach Mike Dunlap said that Mullens' return was "a long way off." Mullens is still on crutches. ... The Bobcats will play at Chicago on Monday afternoon and will play five of their next seven games on the road. ... New Orleans will play Atlanta at home on Tuesday night.