NEW ORLEANS (AP)—David West stumbled toward the sideline after hitting a fadeaway as he was fouled, then turned toward the bench and slapped the extended hand of Hornets coach Byron Scott.
It was an impromptu but fitting exchange between a player and coach who had plenty to celebrate on Tuesday night.
On the day Scott was named NBA coach of the year for the first time, he gave fans in New Orleans another first: an NBA playoff series victory.
“That coach of the year award … it wasn’t a fluke,” Paul said. “It’s the frame of mind he puts us in. He gives us that ultimate confidence and he lets us play.”
“A lot of people may be surprised with how this thing turned out, but we’re not too surprised,” West said.
“Coach has a lot to do with that, his mentality. It’s a trickle-down effect. We go out and we pride ourselves on competing.”
Dirk Nowitzki led Dallas with 22 points and 13 rebounds, and Devean George added 11 points in the fourth quarter as Dallas nearly pulled off an improbable comeback. The Mavs cut a 17-point deficit to three in the final seven minutes before Peja Stojakovic hit a pair of free throws to seal it with 5.7 seconds left.
Tempers flared near the end, and Jerry Stackhouse was ejected for a second technical foul with 1:47 left after slapping the ball out of Paul’s hands during a stoppage in play, then getting in a face-to-face standoff with West.
Dallas never led and was hurt badly by an 11-1 Hornets run after Nowitzki’s free throw had pulled the Mavs to 73-66 early in the fourth quarter.
Dallas played solid defense on New Orleans’ next possession, keeping the ball on the perimeter, but Pargo hit a deflating 3 at the shot clock buzzer.
Pargo added a fast-break layup after rookie Julian Wright’s steal on the other end. Paul then salvaged a botched alley-oop lob when he grabbed a loose ball and drained a baseline fade, and after West found Pargo cutting across the lane for a layup, New Orleans led 84-67 with seven minutes left.
While the crowd was celebrating, Dallas regrouped and stormed back. The Mavs got as close as 97-94 after Brandon Bass, who had 11 points, hit two free throws with 33 seconds left.
The Hornets ran down the shot clock before Paul missed a jumper. Chandler got a hand on the rebound and tapped it to the perimeter, where Paul corralled it and smartly got the ball quickly to Stojakovic, the Hornets’ best free-throw shooter, who finished with 11 points.
Dallas was unable to score again, and the Hornets raised their arms as the buzzer sounded, the crowd went wild and streamers shot down from the rafters.
Dallas must now decide what to do after its blockbuster trade for Jason Kidd yielded only a noncompetitive first-round playoff exit. That could include deciding whether to retain coach Avery Johnson, who’s never won fewer than 51 games in any of his three full regular seasons but whose squads have had two straight first-round playoff losses since losing to Miami in the finals three seasons ago.
“We’re better than what we showed this series,” Nowitzki said. “The summer is going to be long. … You don’t want to say stuff when you’re emotional and disappointed. … You’ve got to look at what you can do to make the team better. We’ve got to look at it this summer again, but it’s not the time now.”
Nowitzki gave mixed reviews to the Kidd trade, which cost the Mavericks young point guard Devin Harris, a former first-round draft choice.
“Honestly, things didn’t look great before the trade. It would have been a struggle to get into the playoffs either way, so we just went for it,” Nowitzki said. “Sometimes you have to take some risks in this business. We went for one of the best point guards ever to play this game. … For some reason, we never got clicking the way we wanted to.”
Johnson didn’t say anything about his future with the team, other than to say he expects to be in meetings soon concerning how to improve the squad.
The Hornets shot nearly 54 percent in the first half and took their first double-digit lead in the first quarter at 24-13.
Dallas battled back to tie it at 32 when Stackhouse hit an acrobatic fast-break layup as he was being pulled to the floor on a hard foul by Pargo, but the Mavs never took the lead and the Hornets began to pull away again when Pargo hit a 3.
Pargo’s jumper several possessions later ignited a 17-3 run to close the second quarter and the Hornets led 54-39 at halftime.
The Hornets’ victory closed the latest happy chapter for a team that won only 18 games in the last full season it played in New Orleans before a two-year displacement to Oklahoma City because of Hurricane Katrina.
Yet, shortly after the game ended, so did the brief celebrations by Hornets players, who said they expected to get at least past the first round after a 56-26 regular season than earned them a Southwest Division crown and the second seed in the tough Western Conference.
“We’re not going to pop champagne bottles or anything like that,” Paul said. “We’re trying to set a new standard here with our organization. This isn’t like a fairy tale for us. This is something that we’re trying to keep going.”
Shortly before tip-off, the Hornets presented Scott with the Red Auerbach trophy so fans could honor the first-time NBA coach of the year. The voting totals were released earlier in the day. … Saints running back Reggie Bush was in a courtside seat and persuaded by the Hornets’ mascot into signing a football and throwing it into the crowd. … Paul had one triple-double and three double-doubles in this series. … Attendance was 18,260. The Hornets sold out all three home playoff games in the series. … Bass hit his first 21 free throws of the series before missing one with 8:56 left in the game. … The Mavs are 8-6 all time in first-round playoff series.