Hornets 101, Nuggets 95
NEW ORLEANS (AP)
That might have been the single best move New Orleans' still unbeaten rookie coach made all game.
Paul scored 10 of his 18 points inside the final nine minutes and assisted on three key baskets during a decisive 13-2 run that sent the Hornets to a 101-95 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
''Chris kind of took over there,'' Williams said. ''It's just a big win for our team.''
Carmelo Anthony had 24 points and 10 rebounds for Denver, which led 79-74 early in the fourth quarter before Williams called timeout and put Paul back on the floor.
Afterward, Anthony said the game showed why Paul, his friend, is the best point guard in the league.
''That's my guy, so I know he wants to prove that he is one of the top point guards in the NBA,'' Anthony said. ''I think by his injury (last season), a lot of people stopped talking about him, which is normal. Any time you're not in the picture, people tend to forget about you sometimes. But I'm glad to see him back and doing what he's doing.''
Paul missed 37 games last season with three injuries, the most serious a torn meniscus in his left knee. He has worn a brace on that knee in the first two games, though it doesn't seem to have bothered him much. He had 17 points and 16 assists Wednesday in New Orleans' opening win over Milwaukee. He finished with a game-high seven assists against Denver, along with seven rebounds and a steal.
Now the Hornets are 2-0 with wins over a pair of playoff teams from last season.
''We might have surprised them,'' Paul said of the Nuggets. ''It doesn't even matter. After that first quarter, they knew who we were. We just wanted to go out there and try to fight.''
Both teams shot better than 48 percent, but the Hornets' defense stepped up in the final minutes, with David West stuffing Billups' drive and Okafor swatting away a shot by Anthony. Denver also was done in by 20 turnovers, including four each by Billups and Shelden Williams, and three each by Anthony and Smith.
''We made too many mistakes late in the game - too many turnovers in the fourth quarter,'' Denver coach George Karl said. ''In general, we put up a pretty good fight for a road game ... (but) Chris Paul is pretty good in the fourth quarter in his own place.''
The Hornets struggled at times to contain Anthony, who scored 10 in the third quarter on a range of jump shots and strong drives while helping the Nuggets erase a nine-point halftime deficit. Then Denver, which had not led since the first quarter, went back in front on Harrington's 3 with 1:44 to go in the third period.
With Paul and West on the bench to start the fourth, Denver was able to push its lead to five on Harrington's dunk before Williams sent Paul back into the game with just under nine minutes to go.
Paul quickly hit a mid-range jumper and set up Okafor's dunk. He then scored on a putback and a jumper before setting up West for an open jump shot that put the Hornets in front 86-84. On New Orleans' next possession, Paul fired a cross-court pass to an open Trevor Ariza, who hit a 3 to make it 89-84 with 4:56 to go.
''A lot of people can't make that pass,'' Anthony said.
Paul later made three free throws after Billups fouled him in the corner as the shot clock wound down. West added a turnaround just before the shot clock expired to make it 94-88. West added another key basket in the final minute, after which a frustrated Billups was called for a technical foul. Paul made the resulting free throw to extend the lead to 97-90, and Denver never recovered.
Ariza finished with 11 points and Marcus Thornton 10 for New Orleans.
Williams had 13 rebounds for Denver and Arron Afflalo had 10 points.
The Hornets got 37 points from reserves, who helped them open a double-digit lead that got as big as 16 at 53-37 in the second quarter.
Billups, who had 13 points in the first half, hit five free throws in the last 1:20 of the second quarter to help the Nuggets trim the deficit to 59-50.
NOTES: West moved into third on the Hornets' career scoring list, two points ahead if Larry Johnson, who had 7,405. ... Paul was called for a technical for 1:20 left in the second quarter for apparently showing up the referee after a foul was called against Denver. ... Attendance was 12,474, nearly 5,000 short of a sellout.