NEW ORLEANS – With the morning shootaround canceled due to the holiday, New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul(notes) was able to join his family at a late Sunday morning Easter service at New Home Family Worship Center. It was there that the All-Star listened to a moving sermon about victory from senior pastor R.C. Blakes Jr. There was also a quick mention of supporting the Hornets.
Paul was so moved by Blakes' words that he tweeted, "If the game 2nite is half as good as church just was, its gonna be a GREAT nite."
With Blakes watching from a second-row baseline seat, Paul had a great night and memorable Easter as he led the underdog Hornets to a series-tying 93-88 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers. He posted his second career playoff triple-double – 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds.
"This is where players are made," Paul said. "I just look at it as a great opportunity for us as a team to forget about the regular season and seize the moment."
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant(notes) expressed concern about Paul following a season-ending overtime win against the Sacramento Kings. Such talk was laughable at the time since the Western Conference's second-seeded Lakers were facing an undersized Hornets squad entering the playoffs with three straight losses and without two-time All-Star forward David West(notes) due to a knee injury.
Down 2-1 in the series, Paul entered Game 4 with a left thumb injury and other ailments, including one to his hip. After Sunday, he added a cut over one eye, courtesy of a bump from Ron Artest(notes), to his pains. Keep in mind Paul also participated in a career-low 45 games last season, lost primarily to a knee injury.
If Paul was in any pain on this night, his play certainly didn't reveal that.
"I did not see him wincing at all," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "When he caught the ball, he just caught it. So to me that was a sign that he was OK."
Said Paul: "When you get to the playoffs, no one feels sorry for you. Nobody. They don't care what's wrong with your ankle, what's wrong with your knee or anything like that."
Paul didn't show any signs of having a big night in the first quarter as he went scoreless with four assists. Trevor Ariza's(notes) 12 points kept the Hornets in reach as the Lakers held a 25-22 lead.
Paul said he fed off Ariza's energy while finishing the first half with just four points, nine assists and six rebounds. He also managed to get under Bryant's skin, causing the Laker to say, "You just woke me up," after fouling Paul with 45.6 seconds left in the half.
Paul's hot play continued into the third quarter. After being fouled on a made jump shot with 7:14 left in the third, Paul turned to the crowd and beat his chest while rapper 50 Cent laughed in amazement nearby from a courtside seat.
"He's maybe 6-feet and he's out there getting rebounds," Ariza said. "He might be 6-feet and he got 13 rebounds."
Paul quickly retorted: "Whoa. I got on dress shoes today, too, buddy."
He hit the triple-double mark through three quarters with 13 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds.
"You're dealing with one of the best point guards in this game," Bryant said. "When it's all said and done, he'll be one of the best who ever laced them up. He's going to have games like this in particular. He controls the ball for the majority of the game. But he's a phenomenal player."
Paul's biggest play of Game 4 came from a shot he decided not to take. Leading 88-86 with about 15 seconds left, Paul had the ball in his hands in the lane with the shot clock winding down. He looked poised to take a wild shot as two Lakers collapsed hard on him. Instead, he dished off at the last possible moment to backup guard Jarrett Jack(notes), who came through with the decisive bucket, a 7-foot jumper with 9.3 seconds remaining.
"I made a move and attacked and Jarrett Jack saved me because I was about to take one of the worst shots I had taken all game," Paul said.
While the series is tied and Bryant is hampered by a left foot injury, the Hornets are expected to need a miracle in order to earn the greatest upset in playoff history. But with Paul now playing the role of David against Goliath and pastor Blakes praying and rooting hard for him and the Hornets, the impossible seems possible.