PHOENIX — Eric Gordon could hardly have made a better first impression.
The high-scoring guard sank a 20-footer from the top of the key with 4.2 seconds to play in his New Orleans debut to give the Hornets an 85-84 victory over the Phoenix Suns in their season opener Monday night.
“All that stuff that we’ve been through with a lot of changes during the offseason,” Gordon said, “I just wanted this game really bad.”
Gordon, who came to New Orleans in the trade that sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Clippers, gave his team its only lead since the first two minutes of the second half.
The Hornets were without Jarrett Jack, who will replace Paul in the starting lineup. Jack served a one-game league suspension.
“We just gritted it out late,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “Obviously, all the teams around the league who are playing with new guys are trying to figure things out, but I just thought we just stuck with our stuff.”
Suns rookie Markieff Morris threw the ball away on Phoenix’s final possession.
Gordon scored 20 points. Carl Landry added 14 and Trevor Ariza 13 for New Orleans.
Robin Lopez scored 22 points, more than he had in any game last season, for the Suns.
Steve Nash had 14 points and 12 assists but was scoreless in the final quarter. Marcin Gortat added 13 for Phoenix.
Both teams were awful from 3-point range, the Suns going 5 of 25 and New Orleans 2 of 16.
The Hornets were within one seven times in the final seven minutes before finally breaking through with Gordon’s game-winning shot.
Ariza drove the lane and was fouled by rookie Markieff Morris with 35.4 seconds to go and the Suns up 84-83, but he missed both free throws and the Suns’ Jared Dudley grabbed the rebound and called time as he fell to the court. Dudley, though, missed a fading 10-footer in the lane with 16.9 seconds to go to give New Orleans its shot at the game winner.
Gordon got the ball just inside midcourt and let fly from the top of the key to put his team ahead.
“You put the ball in his hands, and you tell him to go to work,” Williams said.
There was plenty of time for Phoenix to respond. But after a timeout, the ball was inbounded to Morris, who tried to throw the ball to Nash, but tossed it out of bounds instead with a half-second to play.
“It was a play designed for Steve,” Morris said. “They played great defense on him, and I made a bad pass.”
Down by as many as nine late in the first half, the Suns opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run, Nash’s 21-footer putting Phoenix up 50-49 with 9:48 left in the period. After Vasquez tied it at 54-54 with a three-point play, Nash scored the next five on a driving layup through traffic and a 3-pointer, giving Phoenix a 59-54 with 6:06 to go in the quarter. The Suns led after that, until the final New Orleans shot, but never by more than six.
The Hornets led most of the first half.
Gordon’s 10-foot floater capped an 8-2 spurt that put New Orleans up 41-34 with 2:10 left in the half. The run reached 14-6 when Brown’s driving layup gave the Hornets their biggest lead of the half at 47-38 31.1 seconds before the break. Lopez’s three-point play cut the lead to 47-41 at the half.
Lopez was bothered by a series of injuries last season that took a toll mentally as well as physically. His improved play had been noticed during training camp.
“He’s looked really active and aggressive, and he was big for us tonight,” Nash said. “He had a really nice game. He had a struggle last year physically and mentally, and to come back strong says a lot about him.”
Jack was suspended for violating the league’s conduct code. He pleaded no contest to a reckless driving charge in Georgia. ... Nash played in his 683rd game for the Suns, tied with Kevin Johnson for fourth-most in team history. ... Phoenix began a season with the same starting five that finished the previous one, the first time that’s happened since the 1990-91 season. ... Gordon drew three fouls in a span of less than three minutes in the third quarter. ... Attendance was 17,776, just shy of a sellout.