Thunder sting Hornets 97-92
By BRETT MARTEL
AP Sports Writer
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Russell Westbrook has been so consistently good this season that his coach had trouble distinguishing his latest outing against Chris Paul from numerous other dominant outings by Oklahoma City's third-year point guard.
Westbrook had 29 points and 10 assists, and the Thunder beat the New Orleans Hornets 97-92 on Friday night.
"I see him do this all the time," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. "Russell plays like this no matter who he plays against. ... He's developed into a better leader throughout the year. You can see it more on the floor and in practices."
Westbrook scored 16 points in the second half, including an 18-foot jumper as he was fouled by Paul to give the Thunder a 93-87 lead with 1:41 to go.
"It's just being aggressive at the end of the game," Westbrook said. "For us to come out with a victory, that's what I have to do."
Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who scored 25 points, easily lived up to their billing as the highest-scoring duo in the NBA. Their combined 54 points eclipsed their league-leading average of 51.3 points coming in.
Serge Ibaka had 18 points and nine rebounds, and Jeff Green added 13 points for Oklahoma City (16-8), which won for the third time in four games to pull ahead of the Hornets (14-8) in the Western Conference standings.
David West had 24 points, 13 rebounds and a season-high four steals for the Hornets, but scored only six in the second half. Paul had 18 points and five steals.
Paul recalled how his coach at Wake Forest, the late Skip Prosser, "used to say it's a team game played by individuals."
"I obviously lost my matchup tonight and that probably had something to do with why we lost," Paul said.
Marco Belinelli scored 15, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with a little more than 10 seconds left.
Oklahoma City shot 50 percent, but the Hornets still might have pulled out a win if Emeka Okafor, Trevor Ariza and Belinelli hadn't combined to miss six straight free throws in the final five minutes, a stunning dry spell for a team that hit its first 16 from the foul line.
"We shoot free throws day in and day out in practice," Paul said. "Practice is nothing like the games. We've got to get back to the drawing board. Those are the little things when you look at the box scores. We've got to get better in the free throw game."
The loss was New Orleans' seventh in 10 games after starting 11-1.
The Hornets led 63-55 in the third quarter when West's turnaround was counted because of Ibaka's goaltend. Ibaka quickly redeemed himself with an acrobatic putback of a blocked shot on the other end, igniting an 11-0 Thunder run highlighted by Westbrook's 3 and two other dunks by Durant and Ibaka.
That launched Oklahoma City into the lead at 66-63, and the game tightened up. New Orleans appeared to be seizing back momentum when Belinelli's 3 tied it at 76 early in the fourth quarter. Then Westbrook hit a jumper and a layup along the baseline as he was fouled, powering a 7-0 run.
New Orleans responded with seven straight points, capped by Paul's weaving dribble into the lane and short fallaway to tie it at 81.
Durant's jumper put the Thunder back in front and the lead stretched to 88-84 while the Hornets started missing free throws. Belinelli's 3 and driving floater off the glass pulled New Orleans to 95-92 with 47 seconds left. New Orleans then got a defensive stop, setting up Belinelli's late missed 3, which forced the Hornets to foul and sent the fans streaming to the exits.
The result left Hornets coach Monty Williams lamenting not just the late missed free throws, but the Hornets' 19 turnovers, which all but negated a solid defensive performance that included a season-high 16 steals and produced 20 Oklahoma City turnovers in all.
"We had our opportunities down the stretch," Williams said. "Our defense was not bad, but when you give up 19 turnovers for 22 points, that doesn't help your offense or your defense."
West had 18 points in the first half and Paul scored 12 in a strong first half for the Hornets.
Durant and Westbrook, who each scored 13 in the first half, and New Orleans lead was 51-50 when Paul hit a layup and made a steal soon after, leading to West's dunk. Paul then hit a 20-foot jumper and made another steal in the back court, which he converted into a layup to make it 59-50.
Westbrook's free throws made it 59-52 at halftime.
Notes: With a 3-pointer in the first quarter, Paul hit 7,000 career points in what is now his sixth season. ... The Thunder's victory was only its fourth when scoring fewer than 100 points. ... Jack had 13 points, scoring in double figures for the first time since his first game with the Hornets on Nov. 22. ... Announced attendance was 14,428.
Updated December 10, 2010