Nick Richards scored a career high 19 points to go along with a career high ten rebounds (eight offensive) while Terry Rozier scored 24 points as the Charlotte Hornets opened their season with a blowout win over the San Antonio Spurs, 129-102.
The Hornets got off to the best start possible. They were a bungled PJ Washington layup away from having every player making one shot consecutively to start the game. He got his bucket a minute or so later. Steve Clifford’s emphasis on getting the ball into the paint was apparent early on as the Hornets scored 18 points in the paint (or off free throws from paint attempts) before the first TV timeout. Washington attempted the Hornets first 3-point attempt of the season—it was a crossover sidestep attempt off the dribble, and he splashed it like it’s something that’s totally normal from him. The Hornets bludgeoned the Spurs to the tune of 38 first quarter points despite going just 2-of-3 from deep. They ended the quarter on a 12-0 run to take a 16 point lead into the second quarter.
The only cloud hanging over the first quarter was an injury to Cody Martin. He only played for a couple trips up and down the court before leaving the game with quad soreness.
The young guys got some run to start the second quarter. JT Thor started the period and James Bouknight checked in a couple of minutes later. The Hornets scoring pace tailed off a bit, but they maintained their stiff arm over the Spurs for the first half of the second quarter. As the starters filtered back in, the Hornets went on another spurt to expand their lead. The Spurs answered with a mini-run of their own, but it wasn’t enough to make the Hornets lead uncomfortable. Nick Richards continued to be a menace on the offensive glass, reeling in five offensive boards. Terry Rozier splashed a couple of threes, and the Hornets took a 68-47 lead into the halftime intermission.
The Hornets did not have the ideal start in the second half like they did in the first. Kelly Oubre had to leave the game early with his fourth personal foul. The Hornets got sloppy on the offensive end of the floor and loosened up defensively and let the Spurs go on a 13-2 run to get the game back within arm’s reach. Steve Clifford called a timeout to stop the bleeding. The Spurs had a couple of chances to cut the lead into single figures, but they missed two good chances at it. The Hornets responded to extend their lead once again, thanks in no small part to Dennis Smith Jr, who hit a tough turnaround at a shot clock buzzer then swatted away a layup attempt on the other end of the floor. The Hornets scored the last 13 points of the quarter to go up 23 heading into the fourth quarter.
Terry Rozier started the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer off a nice dribble handoff play. More Richards bully ball and a tough shot from Rozier put the Hornets up by 32 with just under nine minutes left to play. Washington hit an iso jumper then a pull-up three in transition to put the Hornets up 31 with 6:34 to play and put the game on ice.
It was exactly the game you’d want to see from the Hornets to start the season against an inferior Spurs team aside from the injury to Cody Martin. We saw things we haven’t seen from guys like Richards (with his interior presence) and PJ Washington (with his shot making). Dennis Smith Jr. was a force off the bench on both ends of the floor. Kelly Oubre dealt with foul trouble, but he was very aggressive attacking the basket. Gordon Hayward looked spry with 20 points on just 11 shots.
And all this happened without LaMelo Ball, who should be back before too long after he recovers from his sprained ankle.
The Hornets will look to build off the season opening win in their home opener against the Pelicans on Friday night.