Paul, West lift surging Hornets over ThunderBy BRETT MARTEL, AP Sports Writer Tuesday, Jan 25, 2011
After sitting on the bench in early foul trouble while his team went down by double digits, West returned to score 20 points, including a decisive 19-foot fadeaway with 0.5 seconds left, and the Hornets won their ninth straight game, 91-89 over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night.
“I got out of my rhythm early, coming out of the game early with those two fouls. I really didn’t get settled until the fourth quarter,” said West, who scored the Hornets’ final eight points on jumpers of 16 feet or more. “We’re just intent on going out and trying to play complete games and we talk about being able to finish.”
The Hornets’ streak was in danger when Oklahoma City inbounded the ball in a tie game with 14.4 seconds left, but Chris Paul(notes) tipped away Nick Collison’s(notes) attempted handoff to Russell Westbrook(notes) and gained control of the ball just as Collison dove to foul Paul and took his legs out from under him.
“I tried to give it to Russ when I should have just kept it and made a safer play,” Collison said. “The play was to get it to Russ and have him and Kevin (Durant) play pick-and-roll. I tried to sneak it in there but at that point in the game I would have been better off keeping it.”
Paul hurt his left ankle on the play, but stayed in the game as a decoy while West sprinted to the perimeter to take the inbounds pass. West then ran down the clock and drained the game-winner over Serge Ibaka(notes).
“I wanted the ball in that situation to try and close the game for us,” West said. “I’m confident in those scenarios. Usually we go to Chris in that spot, but I knew he wasn’t going to be able to do what he needed to do with his foot” rolled on the previous play.
Paul finished with 24 points, nine assists and three steals, joining with West to lead the Hornets back from a 15-point first-half hole.
The Hornets entered allowing an NBA-low 91 points per game and surprisingly lowered that average even after being outscored 33-19 in the first quarter. New Orleans’ defense came through late, holding Oklahoma City to one basket during the final 4:19.
“It didn’t start off all that great but our guys are tough, mentally tough,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “That team is loaded with a lot of weapons and you can’t cover everything and our guys stayed the course.”
Durant scored 22 points for the Thunder but missed all five of his shots in the fourth quarter, including several in the final minutes as the Hornets erased a late four-point deficit with West’s jumpers.
Emeka Okafor(notes) added 11 points and nine rebounds for the Hornets (30-16), who opened the season with an eight-game winning streak. Now, they have their longest winning streak of the season and the longest active streak in the league.
The victory also moved the Hornets ahead of Oklahoma City and Dallas in the standings and all the way up to third in the Western Conference.
Oklahoma City (28-16) outshot New Orleans 46.5 percent to 45.5 percent and outrebounded New Orleans 41-33. However, the Hornets combined for nine steals and converted 17 Thunder turnovers into 27 points.
“I’m proud of our guys and their effort,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “That effort will win a lot of games and we missed some shots down the stretch that we would normally make. I would have liked to see that (last offensive) play executed and we get the last shot and if we miss it, we go to overtime, but it did not happen.”
The Thunder took a fourth-quarter lead thanks to Jeff Green(notes), who was coming off a 3-of-11 shooting performance and was benched for all but 40 seconds of the fourth quarter in Oklahoma City’s narrow victory over New York on Saturday night. He enjoyed a drastic turnaround in New Orleans, going 8 of 13 from the field, and his jump hook gave the Thunder a 79-73 lead early in the fourth.
The Thunder still led by five when Paul stole the ball from Westbrook for a fast-break layup and later hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 83.
Ibaka put Oklahoma City back in front when he battled for an offensive rebound and then went back up for an authoritative jam over Okafor. Soon after, Westbrook hit a jumper to make it 87-83, but the Hornets’ defense tightened up long enough for West to hit two jumpers to tie it with 1:53 left.
After Westbrook soared through the paint to tip in Durant’s missed 3 and put the Thunder back ahead, West hit another jumper to tie it at 89 with 57 seconds left.
The Thunder led by as much as 15 when Green hit one of two free throws early in the second quarter, then the Hornets began to lock down defensively, allowing only 11 points the rest of the half.
Marcus Thornton’s(notes) 3 ignited a 9-0 run that included two tough inside baskets by West to cut it to 40-37. Soon after, Okafor’s dunk opened a 6-0 spurt that put New Orleans back in the lead at 45-44, and Paul’s off-balance jumper at the horn completed a 20-point swing that gave New Orleans a 50-45 halftime lead.
Notes: Oklahoma City had won both previous games against the Hornets this season. … The Hornets are 19-5 at home. … Attendance was 17,233, the club’s second straight sellout. The Hornets needed a crowd of 11,758 to void a provision in the lease that would have allowed the team to leave after this season.