The San Antonio Spurs were not getting the spark they normally receive from their All-Star veterans, so they turned to a rookie coming off two knee surgeries.
Davis Bertans responded with another eye-opening performance.
Bertans scored a season-high 21 points to help the Spurs overcome a sluggish start and beat the Charlotte Hornets 102-85 on Saturday night.
"We saw what he's capable of," Spurs guard Danny Green said. "It finally translated over to the game. He's been doing that all preseason, practice and even when he's played he's shown bits and pieces of it. He put it together for the whole time he was out there (tonight). We expect him to play like that. Hopefully this game is a confidence builder for him."
Bertans was 4 for 5 on 3-pointers in leading the Spurs in scoring for the first time this season. The 6-foot-10 forward from Latvia has averaged 9.6 minutes while playing in 24 of the team's 37 games and San Antonio is unbeaten when he scores.
San Antonio has won nine straight at home and 13 of 15 overall.
Kawhi Leonard added 19 points and LaMarcus Aldridge had 15 points and 11 rebounds, but Bertans ignited the Spurs.
"Kawhi and LaMarcus and Pau (Gasol), those guys are a handful on their own," Hornets center Cody Zeller said, "but it's tough to win when their role players get off like that. He was the difference in the game."
Kemba Walker finished with 18 points for Charlotte, shooting 4 for 5 from 3-point range.
Bertans started early, sprinting past Frank Kaminsky from the 3-point line and throwing down a running right-handed dunk on Roy Hibbert to cut Charlotte's lead to 22-19.
"He's got some athleticism you all haven't seen," San Antonio reserve Dewayne Dedmon said. "It's pretty impressive."
Bertans joined the Spurs after playing the previous five seasons in Europe since being drafted 42nd overall in 2011 by Indiana. He was part of the draft-day trade that brought Leonard to the Spurs and sent George Hill to the Pacers.
His delay in joining the Spurs was partly due to surgeries to repair a torn ACL in his right knee in June 2013 and again in March 2015. He has joked that the doctors put "something special" in his knee during the second surgery and his teammates are starting to wonder if it's true.
Bertans energized the sold-out crowd with back-to-back 3-pointers late in the third quarter, extending the Spurs' lead to 68-60. His first 3 resulted in a four-point play when Kaminsky closed late defensively and nearly knocked over the 24-year-old.
Bertans' fourth 3-pointer caused the Spurs' bench to leap in excitement, signaling the shot with three fingers in the air.
"They missed a lot of shots and just one point in the game they just catch fire," Walker said. "That's what they do. They've been doing it for years."
San Antonio trailed 50-47 after a sluggish first half.
Jeremy Lamb added 13 points and eight assists for Charlotte.
▪ Hornets: Charlotte has lost nine straight in San Antonio. The Hornets' last victory was a 92-85 overtime victory on Nov. 15, 2006. .... Walker, Lamb, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marvin Williams and Zeller started together for the first time this season. ... Hibbert emerged a few minutes into the second half with his right knee wrapped heavily wrapped in ice, but he entered the game midway through the third quarter. Hibbert finished with 10 points and five rebounds in 15 minutes.
▪ Spurs: Leonard has scored in double figures in 69 straight games. Only LeBron James, Kevin Durant, James Harden, Isaiah Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins have longer active streaks. ... F David Lee missed his first game of the season with a bruised left knee. He is averaging 6.6 points and 5.0 rebounds and has started two games. ... Gasol had two blocks, moving him past Jermaine O'Neal for 22nd on the career list with 1,822.
Zeller played after clearing the concussion protocol tests.
He missed the Hornets' previous three games after taking an elbow to the head in the fourth quarter of their loss to Cleveland on Dec. 31.
"He's a rhythm player and missing that time badly hurt him," Charlotte coach Steve Clifford said. "I think he'll be a lot better on Tuesday."
Zeller was 3-for-5 shooting and finished with nine points and nine rebounds in 33 minutes.
▪ Hornets: At Houston on Tuesday night.
▪ Spurs: Host Milwaukee on Tuesday night.