SAN ANTONIO – With All-Star guard LaMelo Ball out with a sprained left ankle, Terry Rozier stepped up with 24 points and six others scored in double figures as the Charlotte Hornets routed the San Antonio Spurs 129-102 on Wednesday night.
The Spurs opened their 50th season in San Antonio inauspiciously, losing a season opener for only the third time under Gregg Popovich.
“You start with the fact that we got thumped and you don’t avoid it, you don’t hide from it,” Popovich said. “We got our butts kicked. And from there, you can look to improve.”
This year’s squad bears no resemblance to the veteran-led teams that won five NBA championships and appeared in a league-record 22 straight postseasons under Popovich.
Averaging 23.4 years, this is the youngest roster in Popovich’s 27 seasons as San Antonio coach.
Charlotte took advantage of the inexperience.
The Hornets set franchise records in a season opener for points in the first half (68) and opening quarter (38).
“If you’re going to have a good year, you need a lot of good players,” Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. “So, every guy that you have is comfortable in their role and playing with confidence gives you a better chance.”
And Charlotte demonstrated their comfort against San Antonio, shooting 51% from the field and 45% on 3-pointers.
P.J. Washington had 17 points and Gordon Hayward added 15 as all five Hornets starters scored in double figures. Charlotte reserve center Nick Richards had a career-high 19 points.
Keldon Johnson had 20 points, 11 rebounds and four assists to lead San Antonio in all three categories. Jakob Poeltl and Tre Jones added 14 points each.
Charlotte raced out to a double-digit lead in the opening five minutes as San Antonio missed its first seven 3-pointers and had more turnovers (three) than assists (one).
“They missed a lot of open 3s in the first quarter,” Clifford said. “It’s what I just shared with the guys: You’ve got to be able to watch the film and you’ve got to be able to say, ‘What if they shot in the first quarter like they did in the third quarter?’ Because you want to be able to win and make progress or lose. We did do some good things. I thought our ball pressure was good. They’re hard to guard, but I was feeling, watching them play, they missed a lot of open shots, too.”
San Antonio thrilled the sell-out crowd with a 13-2 run capped by Johnson’s 3-pointer in closing to 76-64 with 7 minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Charlotte’s lead never dipped below double figures in the second half, though.
The Hornets went on a 19-1 run after another Johnson 3-pointer pulled the Spurs within 85-75 with 4:46 remaining in the third quarter.
Guard James Bouknight played 10 minutes hours after the Charlotte Mecklenburg County Police released details of his DWI arrest on Sunday morning. Bouknight was found intoxicated, unconscious and holding a gun with his vehicle in drive. Bouknight has a pending concealed carry permit, so he was not charged for possession of a gun. Bouknight was scoreless, going 0 for 3 from the field. ... San Antonio is 23-3 in its season openers under Popovich. … Jeremy Sochan is just the fifth rookie to start on opening night for San Antonio, joining Tim Duncan (’97), David Robinson (’89), Sean Eliott (’89) and Willie Anderson (’88).
San Antonio paid tribute to Manu Ginobili’s Hall of Fame induction with a halftime ceremony.
Ginobili’s retired jersey was updated to include the Hall of Fame designation. The sell-out crowd interrupted Ginobili’s speech twice with shouts of “Manu.”
Still, Pop didn’t miss the chance to playfully dig at Ginobili.
“If I could have played him tonight, then I would care, but he doesn’t play, so screw him,” Popovich said with a wry grin. “What has he done for us lately? Nothing.”
Popovich is widely known as sommelier, enjoying a bottle of wine while gathering with players, coaches and friends.
The menu is going to have to change this season since the Spurs have six players that are under the legal drinking age of 21.
“I was at dinner with one of my players, which who will not be named, just the two of us. And I ordered a glass of wine, and he tried to order it too,” Popovich said. “I said, ‘Wait a minute, what is your mom and dad going to say if you went to dinner with Coach Pop and you are out there drinking? And it’s illegal for you to drink. We can’t do that.’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah. OK.’ So, he had bubble water or sparkling water, whatever the hell that awful stuff is.”
Hornets: Host New Orleans on Friday.
Spurs: Open a three-game road trip Friday at Indiana.