Eric Gordon looked winded, his chest heaving in and out in its attempt to keep up with his breathing.
This, by the way, was just in the first quarter.
But for players like Gordon, games don’t begin until the second half starts.
And for players like Gordon, winded or not, the ball needs to be in their hands in clutch time.
Wednesday night, a situation that has played itself out for the Hornets for the better part of three months, turned up again.
This time, they had a closer, someone who could get his own shot or, at the very least, cull a foul.
Gordon did the latter and produced, hitting two free throws, the difference in New Orleans’ 94-92 win over Denver.
Yet, that might not have been what stood out the most about Gordon’s return from a three-month layoff.
He opens the floor for others, giving them space that previously wasn’t there.
Never was that more apparent that at the end of the game when he forced a Nugget to leave Chris Kaman to stop the guard from getting to the rim.
Gordon missed his shot, but Kaman did not miss the putback.
“Because he draws so much attention, Chris is able to get an offensive rebound and score,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “Normally we have guys going to the basket, nobody has to help and the other team can get rebounds. He has an impact on the floor even when he doesn’t have the ball.”
Gordon’s athleticism and basketball smarts allow him to have an impact even when he’s shooting 3 of 11 like he did against Denver. He went 7 of 9 from the free-throw line and had four assists.
It’s the confidence that he brings from the guard position that the Hornets have been missing, no offense to Jarrett Jack and Greivis Vasquez and Marco Belinelli.
The fourth-year youngster knew, in the end, it was going to be up to him if the Hornets were going to win.
“I knew I was going to get the ball at the top of the key,” Gordon said. “It was just all about making a play. He was guarding me pretty good but when I was obviously getting ready to attack the basket, he was so close up to me I knew a pump-fake would probably have him up in the air, which he did.”