PHOENIX (AP)—J.R. Smith’s perfect night at the foul line prevented another fourth-quarter collapse for New Orleans.
Smith scored a season-high 26 points, including four free throws in the last 17.6 seconds, and the Hornets held off the Phoenix Suns 91-87 Monday night to snap a five-game losing streak. Smith finished 10-for-10 at the line.
“At Sacramento last night, we really didn’t capitalize in the crunch,” Smith said. “It came down to the last four minutes and we pretty much folded. We knew we couldn’t do that tonight.”
New Orleans never trailed after an early 5-4 deficit, and led 87-75 after Paul’s 3-pointer with 3:26 to play.
The Suns sank four 3-pointers after that to make it close.
“We kind of played a little bit frantic there at the end,” Phoenix’s Raja Bell said. “We played like there was something on the line. We’ve got to learn to play like that for more of the game, not just when it’s desperation time, because that’s when we’re at our best.”
Consecutive 3s by Steve Nash, Bell and Eddie House cut the lead to 87-84 with 1:03 to play. After Nash missed what would have been a game-tying 3-pointer, Smith made two free throws to make it 89-84 with 17.6 seconds to go.
House, who missed his first seven 3-point attempts and finished 3-for-13 overall, sank another one with 14.1 seconds left to cut it to 89-87, but Smith clinched it with two more free throws 11.6 seconds from the end.
“We kept our poise,” New Orleans coach Byron Scott said. “You know that’s the one thing about a young team, you hope that they start to mature and understand that you’ve got to get defensive stops. I think we learned from that last night. We did a better job tonight of getting some stops when we needed them.”
The Hornets made nine of their first 11 shots, capped by a 9-0 run that put them up 23-11 on Smith’s 3-pointer with 6:13 left in the first quarter, and New Orleans led 54-46 at the break.
“I thought it was a poor effort in the first quarter,” Suns coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We just didn’t defend. They get 31 points and the rest of the time we’re trying to play catchup. And when you do that, you have a chance to lose to any team.”
Nash shot 2-for-8 in the first half but had 11 assists, many of them to Bell, who was 6-for-8 for 16 points.
Smith scored 17 on 5-of-6 shooting, 3-of-3 from 3-point range, and Mason made 7-of-9 shots for 16 first-half points.
Phoenix, playing its fifth game in seven nights, outscored the Hornets 9-4 to start the second half to cut the lead to 58-55 on Marion’s fast-break rebound. But P.J. Brown’s stuff on a lob pass from Paul capped a 10-2 run and New Orleans led 68-57 with 6:01 left in the third.
Mason’s stuff gave the Hornets a 72-59 lead with 4:26 to play in the quarter.
Suns guard Leandro Barbosa is out at least three weeks after re-injuring his left knee. Forward James Jones sat out the game with a sprained left ankle. … New Orleans shot 62 percent (13-for-21) in the first quarter. … Phoenix could have gained a share of first in the Pacific Division with a victory. … The Suns had beaten the Hornets five straight.