Chris Paul wanted out of New Orleans for a better chance to win. In his first trip back, he received a mix of a cheers and boos, and left with a loss.
Chris Kaman scored 20 points and the Hornets rallied for a 97-90 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, spoiling Paul’s return. Jarrett Jack and Jason Smith each scored 17 as New Orleans snapped a five-game home losing streak.
”There was a lot of emotions going through my head,” Paul said. ”But as soon as they threw the ball up, all of that was out the window.”
The Clippers were held to 11 points in the fourth quarter as they shot 4 for 23 from the field. Los Angeles also missed its last 19 3-point attempts.
After trailing throughout the first three quarters, the Hornets went ahead with an 11-2 run at the start of the fourth and led the rest of the way.
”We just wanted to come out there and play aggressive, no matter if they got a dunk,” Smith said. ”They’re going to get highlight dunks and highlight this and highlight that.”
Blake Griffin had 21 points for Los Angeles, which has lost three in a row for the first time this season. Paul, who forced a trade from New Orleans before the season, added 16 points on 5-for-14 shooting.
”There’s frustration, there’s no question,” Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro said. ”But, hey, you’ve got come ready to play every night and you can’t take plays off.”
Jack, Paul’s replacement as the starting point guard in New Orleans, put the Hornets ahead for the first time, 80-79, with a jumper in the lane. After the Clippers tied the score at 81, Xavier Henry hit a fall-away buzzer-beater to put New Orleans ahead for good, Smith dunked off a beautiful bounce pass from Greivis Vazquez and Smith sank an outside shot to give the Hornets a six-point lead.
The game took an ugly turn with 4:06 left when Smith body-slammed Griffin to the floor on a fast break. Paul followed Smith into the concourse behind the basket and had words with him as several players jawed at each other.
”It was a terrible foul,” Paul said. ”I don’t know what Jason was thinking. He probably better be ready to sit out a game or two for that one. I’m just glad Blake controlled it.”
Smith was assessed a flagrant 2 foul, which carries an automatic ejection, but left the court to a loud ovation.
”I think it looked a lot worse than what it was, but that’s still not a play that you ever want to do to another player like that,” Smith said. ”I apologize to Blake Griffin. I didn’t want to hurt him at all. I just wanted to try and cut off his lane to the basket.”
Griffin hit both free throws, but the Clippers failed to score on the ensuing possession and never caught up.
Typical of their frustration, DeAndre Jordan shot an air ball from three feet that turned into a shot clock violation with the Hornets leading 93-89. Griffin cut the gap to 93-90 on a free throw with 54.2 seconds left, but Randy Foye missed a 3 that would have tied it on Los Angeles’ next possession.
Marco Belinelli’s two free throws with 14.9 seconds left sealed if for New Orleans.
Paul, a four-time All-Star with the Hornets, drew a mixed reaction. He was greeted with cheers and boos in the introductions. A tribute that ran on the video screens above the court at the end of the first quarter — focusing on his off-court projects with kids in New Orleans — drew a loud ovation, and he waved his acknowledgement while standing in front of the Clippers’ bench.
But fans cheered again when he picked up his third foul late in the second quarter and even started screaming ”Beat L.A.,” a chant normally reserved for the Lakers.
Paul needed only 16 seconds for his first assist, a pass to Randy Foye for a 3-pointer. He had three assists on the Clippers’ first four baskets and also scored on a driving layup and a wide open 3-pointer from the top of the key in the first 8 minutes.
That was part of the Clippers’ 35-point outburst — the most points the Hornets have allowed in the first quarter all season — and Los Angeles led by six. They had three dunks, including one by Young over Smith immediately after Smith blocked a dunk attempt by Jordan.
But the Clippers slowed down dramatically from there, failing to score 100 points for the ninth consecutive game. Paul had five assists in the open quarter and only four more the rest of the way. He also did not have a rebound.
”We came out with a lot of energy, but playing hard is not going to win it in this league,” Paul said. ”You have to play effective, you’ve got to play smart, we’ve got to play better.”
Jack outscored him by one and matched his nine assists.
NOTES: This was the only game the teams will play in New Orleans this season. They meet two more times, both in Los Angeles. … The Hornets shot 71 percent in the first quarter. … Clippers guard Mo Williams was carried off the court with a left big toe injury in the second half. Hornets starting forward Trevor Ariza left in the third quarter with a sore right ankle and did not return. … Actor Samuel L. Jackson, in town for the filming of a Quentin Tarantino movie, announced the starting lineups.