By Peter Finney Jr., The Sports Xchange
NEW ORLEANS - The New Orleans Hornets waited two months for Eric Gordon to return to the starting lineup from a right knee injury, and it was well worth the wait.
Still shaking off the rust of inactivity, Gordon exploded for 12 of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter, including four jump shots in a critical 12-4 run, to lift the Hornets to a 95-88 victory over the San Antonio Spurs Monday night at the New Orleans Arena.
After San Antonio had closed the gap to 78-75 with 7:25 left, Gordon hit mid-range jumpers on four of the Hornets' next five possessions, and New Orleans extended its lead to 90-79 with 2:28 left. The Hornets (9-25) have won three of four games since Gordon's return.
The Spurs closed the third quarter on an 8-0 to cut New Orleans' lead to 70-65, but the Hornets opened the fourth quarter with 3-pointers by Brian Roberts and Ryan Anderson to extend their lead to 76-65.
San Antonio closed the gap to 78-75 with another 8-0 run, getting a pair of long-range jumpers from Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard. But that's when Gordon took over, hitting three consecutive jumpers. Ginobili led the Spurs (27-10), who have lost six of their last eight road games, with 21 points.
Gordon struggled from the field in the first half, hitting just 3 of 11, but he broke down the Spurs' defense by repeatedly driving to the basket and forcing fouls to score 12 first-half points. Gordon made all six of his foul shots as the Hornets took a 49-41 halftime lead.
Davis struggled to score in the previous four games, averaging just 7.3 points, but he made 5 of 8 shots in the first half - four on layups or dunks - for 10 points to break out of his offensive slump. Davis also added five rebounds and three steals.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich almost drew a technical foul when he lambasted officials for not calling offensive goaltending on a Davis put back in the second quarter.
The Hornets' defense hounded the Spurs into 11 first-half turnovers, with four by Duncan. The Hornets led 43-33 on a 3-pointer by Ryan Anderson -- the only long-range jumper by the Hornets in the first half. Ginobili hit a floater from the right baseline to cut the deficit to 49-41 at intermission.
NOTES: Spurs coach Gregg Popovich continued to sound the alarm about "Beergate" at Madison Square Garden last Thursday night. Spurs forward Stephen Jackson sprained his right ankle while tripping over a courtside waitress, who was on her knees taking a drink order near New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. "I call it the 'Mayoral Mishap,'" Popovich said. "It's something that is a concern for all of us, obviously -- just like the end lines with all the cameras. It seems logical that in arenas, while the play is going on, you try to order a little less beer. When the play stops, go order whatever you want. While the play is going on, it would be nice to have all those lanes kind of free." ... NBA Hall of Fame forward Bob Pettit, who played at LSU, attended the game as the guest of Hornets owner Tom Benson. Popovich said it would be difficult to compare Tim Duncan to Pettit. "Pettit and Duncan would be two names that would definitely be brought up in the conversation as the best ever, that's for sure," Popovich said. Do his current players even know who Pettit is? "I bring up names way after him that my team has no clue who they are," Popovich said. "Bob Pettit -- there's no shot there."... Hornets coach Monty Williams said Eric Gordon's passing ability is an often-overlooked asset of the guard's overall game. "He's so good at scoring the ball that they don't realize how well he passes until he does it," Williams said.