NEW ORLEANS (AP) -Manu Ginobili and the San Antonio Spurs never doubted their ability to overcome a 17-point deficit on the road, in the second half, against Chris Paul and a New Orleans Hornets squad that had yet to lose at home.
What Ginobili and Co. never imagined was a comeback so dominant that San Antonio would build a 17-point lead of its own before it was over.
``It's hard to believe that we were up by 30' in second-half scoring, Ginobili said. ``We were kind of shocked, but we played very well. We hustled a lot and defensively we were much, much better.'
Ginobili scored 15 of his 23 points in the second half, and San Antonio stormed back convincingly to hand the Hornets their first home loss of the season, 109-95 on Sunday.
Tim Duncan scored 21 points and Richard Jefferson added 19 for the Spurs, who matched a franchise-best 7-0 start on the road, set in the 2006-07 season, and continued their best overall start (14-2) in club history.
In the second half, the Spurs shot 60.5 percent (23 of 38) and made seven 3-pointers while outscoring New Orleans 65-34. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich made some defensive adjustments, including going with a smaller and quicker lineup, and commanded his team to get back in the game on the defensive end, which it did. The Spurs held New Orleans to 35.5 percent shooting (11 of 31) and forced nine turnovers during the final 24 minutes.
``I saw a 17-point deficit, so we changed up the defense and it helped us,' Popovich said. ``We made shots and got more aggressive, got a little more physical and just competed better in the second half.'
David West scored 23 points for the Hornets, but only five in the second half.
Paul added 15 points, while Emeka Okafor and Marco Belinelli each had 12 for New Orleans.
Paul said the Hornets' defensive intensity slipped in the second half and he blamed himself for the club's lack of offensive punch down the stretch.
``We've got to execute better on offense and push the tempo. That's my fault,' Paul said. ``I pushed it in the first half and I guess I didn't in the second half and they were able to get their defense set. I've got to pick up the pace.'
George Hill scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half for the Spurs, who increased their Southwest Division lead to two games over New Orleans and Dallas.
The Spurs entered the fourth quarter still trailing 77-72, but hit their first nine shots of the period to surge into the lead for good.
Jefferson started the surge with a driving floater along the baseline. Then Gary Neal completed the comeback with a 3 to tie it at 77 and Antonio McDyess added a jumper to give the Spurs their first lead since they were up 14-13 in the middle of the first quarter.
After West tied it at 79, Jefferson and Ginobili hit back-to-back 3s and the Spurs started to pull away, taking their first double-digit lead when Hill drained an off balance jumper as he was fouled and hit the free throw to make it 94-84 with 6:58 to go.
``For some strange reason we've been a second-half type of team - give up points in the beginning then lock down defense in the second half,' Hill said. ``If we can play defense the way we did in the second half ... I think it's going to be a scary year for everybody.'
San Antonio trailed by 17 at halftime and when Belinelli's 3 made it 68-51 with 9:27 left in the third quarter, the Spurs responded with a 10-0 run capped by Jefferson's 3 to make it 68-61.
The Hornets started coming apart on both ends of the floor. After turning the ball over only three times in the first half, they committed six turnovers and were only 5 of 15 shooting in the third quarter.
It left a stunned crowd to wonder what happened to the team that shot 61 percent in an impressive first half.
``The bottom line is I got outcoached,' said Hornets first-year coach Monty Williams, who began his coaching career as an intern under Popovich in San Antonio.
``Coach Popovich made a great move, going small, and I didn't make the immediate adjustments to put us in position to hang on. ... It was just an old-school whipping from a coaching standpoint.'
NOTES: This marked the second meeting of these Southwest Division rivals, with New Orleans winning the first 99-90 in San Antonio on Oct. 30. ... The Spurs' 109 points were the most allowed by the Hornets this season. ... Announced attendance was 12,449, about 4,800 short of a sellout.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved