NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Chris Paul picked an opportune time for his first triple-double of the season.
Paul had 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds, and the New Orleans Hornets held on for a 93-88 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night to even their first-round playoff series at 2-2.
“It’s huge for us,” said Paul, who turned in the performance after spending Easter with family. “We wanted to bring a win to our fans in New Orleans. Happy we got this win on Easter. Having my family here makes it more special.”
Wearing a black wrap on his left hand and a small bandage over his right eye, Paul scored 14 of New Orleans’ 24 points in the fourth quarter.
The All-Star guard then capped his brilliant performance by running down the clock and setting up Jarrett Jack’s short jumper, which made it 90-86 with 9.3 seconds left.
“Chris Paul, that was one of the better performances I’ve seen in the playoffs,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “A lot of guys score. He scored. He assisted. He rebounded.”
Kobe Bryant had 17 points for the Lakers, but did not score in the first half and finished 5 of 18 shooting. He also came up lame late in the fourth quarter, favoring his left ankle after a collision with Willie Green.
Bryant’s last miss came on a 3-point attempt in the final seconds.
That forced Los Angeles to foul Jarrett Jack, and while the Hornets walked up the court, Paul triumphantly cupped his hand around his ear to soak in the roar of approval from the packed and delirious New Orleans Arena.
“Regardless of what happens in this series, it was good to see the city with a smile on their face,” said Paul, who hit 7 of 14 shots and all 11 of his free throws. “It was fun, man. I’m just so thankful to get to say this is my way of life.”
Trevor Ariza scored 19 for New Orleans, while Carl Landry added 16 before fouling out in the final minute.
The Hornets’ victory ensured the series, which resumes with Game 5 in Los Angeles on Tuesday night, would return to New Orleans for Game 6 on Thursday.
Pau Gasol and Ron Artest each scored 16 for Los Angeles, with all of Artest’s points coming in the first half. Andrew Bynum added 11 points and Derek Fisher 10.
The Hornets never trailed in the second half and led by as many as nine points, at 57-48, early in the third quarter when Marco Belinelli’s 3 capped a 20-3 spurt that had started in the second quarter.
Bryant still hadn’t scored at that point, but that was about to change dramatically.
He scored the next eight points to cut New Orleans’ lead to a point. He wound up with 14 in the quarter, but with Paul driving New Orleans’ offense and helping out on the defensive end with a key steal and five rebounds, the Hornets held a 69-67 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
New Orleans opened the fourth with a flourish. After setting up Green’s 3, Paul added a tough floater from the baseline as he was fouled and a step-back jumper on the baseline capping a 12-3 run that made it 81-72 with 6:13 left.
Steve Blake turned the momentum with a 3, then Bryant added a pull-up in the lane and a free throw to cut it to 81-78 with 4:24 left.
Bryant had a chance to tie it at 83 with a little over 2 minutes left, but his shot was short and Paul scrambled for the long rebound, drawing a foul on Gasol and hitting crucial free throws to make it 85-80.
The Hornets were narrowly able to hold on after the Lakers had cut it to 88-86 on Gasol’s inside basket and Lamar Odom’s free throws.
That’s when Paul set up Jack’s crucial score at the shot clock buzzer, and Jack added three more free throws for the final margin.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who’s team has lost both times it has failed to contain Paul, said the Hornets’ star deserved credit for carrying his team again.
“He pressed the game in the second half and delivered for them,” Jackson said.
The opening half was dominated by role players.
Slashing aggressively through the Lakers defense, Ariza had 16 points by halftime, mostly on layups, driving floaters and a a double-pump dunk against Bynum.
That was matched by Artest, who hit a pair of 3s and several tough shots inside.
The Lakers led most of the half, going up by as much as nine, but the Hornets dominated the final seven minutes of the second quarter after Paul returned from a rest.
Paul had five assists, five rebounds and four points during that span, helping the Hornets close the quarter on a 12-0 run that gave them a 49-45 halftime lead.
Bryant, who rested about seven minutes during first half, appeared to be focusing on getting his teammates more involved. He had seven assists in the first half.
Yet he also missed seven shots, as well as a technical free throw that resulted from Paul yelling at him after the Hornets guard appeared to be bumped by Bryant on a driving floater that turned out to be Paul’s first basket with 1:03 left in the second quarter.
Soon after, Paul and Bryant were in each other’s faces again after Bryant was called for a shooting foul on Paul. Ariza, a former Lacer, walked Bryant away to the perimeter and Paul his both free throws to give the Hornets a 47-45 lead.
Paul then got his ninth assist of the half when he set up Emeka Okafor’s 13-foot baseline jumper in the final seconds of the second quarter.
Notes: Bryant and Paul were the last starters for each of their teams to score. Paul didn’t score until he hit a driving layup with 1:03 left in the second quarter. Bryant, who was 0 for 7 in the first half and missed a technical free throw, finally scored with 9:28 left in the third quarter. … The last time Bryant went scoreless for a half in a playoff game was May 25, 2004 against Minnesota. Bryant finished with 22 and the Lakers won. … Bryant hit seven free throws to become the Lakers’ all-time leader in playoff free throws made with 1,216, passing Jerry West, who had 1,213.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)