Rookies spark victory in Paul's return

BY foxsports • March 23, 2010

Chris Paul's first appearance in 25 games coincided with one of New Orleans' most impressive victories this season.

The way Marcus Thornton, David West, Morris Peterson and Darren Collison performed, the Hornets might have won without their All-Star point guard.

Thornton scored 28 points, West added 25 points and 10 assists, and the Hornets had a remarkable run of 23 straight points without Paul on the floor in a 115-99 triumph over the Dallas Mavericks on Monday night.

"We won. I was just happy to get out there on the court,'' Paul said. "I wasn't worrying about scoring or anything like that. I just wanted to try to get the feel back and get the win.''

Returning from a left knee injury, Paul started but Hornets coach Jeff Bower limited his playing time to 21 minutes. Paul finished with 11 points and three assists.

"I asked, 'Could I play more,' but they was like, 'No, no way,''' Paul said. "It was like I had a cell phone. At halftime, I kept telling the guys I only had 12 minutes left. That's all I had left on my daytime minutes.''

Paul helped New Orleans pull away in the fourth quarter as they ended a three-game skid, but Collison, his rookie backup, ran the offense when the Hornets had their 23-0 run from late in the second quarter until early in the third to take a lead they would not relinquish.

"It was great having CP out there even though he didn't play a lot,'' Thornton said. "Just having him out there being a floor leader was great. We fed off that.

"DC stepped up when CP was out, so it's fun playing with both of them,'' Thornton continued. "They will find you. They're true point guards and it helps when they get buckets, too.''

Morris Peterson had a season-high 20 points for New Orleans and Collison scored 16 to go with eight assists, the most by a Hornets reserve this season.

Jason Terry scored 24 for Dallas, which squandered a 16-point, first-quarter lead.

"We got up (16) points and then basically called it quits,'' said Shawn Marion, who scored 14 points. "We just took it on the chin. We stopped everything we were doing. We got relaxed and they got aggressive and started getting comfortable and making shots.''

After shooting only 32 percent in the first quarter (7 of 22), the Hornets went 38 of 61 (62 percent) from the field during the rest of the game.

The Hornets led 60-45 when Thornton's 3 capped their pivotal surge just more than a minute into the third quarter. The closest Dallas got after that was when Terry hit a 3 to make it 73-66 with 3:06 to go in the period.

Peterson responded with a 3, and soon after, West hit a couple of jumpers and had a steal to set up Collison's fast-break dunk to put the Hornets up 82-70 heading into the fourth quarter.

Darius Songaila opened the final period with a jumper from the top of the key and Paul scored his first points on a baseline fade with 11:05 remaining in the game. Paul later added three 3-pointers as the Hornets built a lead as large as 21.

Dallas shot 52 percent (42 of 81), but was hurt by porous defense and 20 turnovers, which the Hornets converted into 35 points. Dirk Nowitzki scored 16 points for the Mavericks, while Caron Butler scored 12.

Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said his players "clearly have a focus problem that we must look at and fix before the postseason.''

Paul's return energized the crowd during pregame introductions, but the Hornets struggled early.

Marion's steal and fast-break dunk capped an early 17-2 run that staked Dallas to a 19-5 lead. Dallas shot 67 percent (14 of 21) in the first quarter, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range, and the first of Terry's two 3s in the quarter stretched the Mavericks' lead 27-11. His second 3 made it 32-16.

The Hornets responded with a stunning second quarter.

An 11-2 run early in the period, capped by West's jump hook over Nowitzki, cut it to 36-30. Dallas built its lead back to 43-32 on Butler's jumper, then New Orleans took over, outscoring the Mavs 22-2 during the rest of the half.

The Hornets then opened the second half on an 8-0 run highlighted by Thornton's two 3-pointers.

Notes: Posey was called for a flagrant foul on Beaubois in the final second of regulation as Beaubois tried to drive in for a meaningless layup. ... The Mavericks have not won in New Orleans since December 2006. ... The Hornets are 22-17 this season when Paul plays. ... Dallas and New Orleans split their season series 2-2. ... Dallas returns to action at home Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Clippers.