BOSTON -- The pregame ceremony honoring Red Auerbach was going to pump up the crowd. The Boston Celtics were going to be up for this one, too.
"It was a very emotional night," Paul said, after the Hornets' 91-87 season-opening win Wednesday night in Boston.
Paul was born one year before Boston won its last title in 1986, but last season's NBA Rookie of the Year was well aware of how much Boston's fans adored the late Celtics icon.
"Red Auerbach, he's the man," Paul said. "Being point guard, I had to make sure we stayed under control."
Paul had 20 points and 10 assists and helped the Hornets stave off two comebacks after they took a 54-41 halftime lead. New Orleans held on with the help of two big field goals from Peja Stojakovic in the last two minutes.
Paul "got us back to a point where it was slipping away a little bit and just took control of the game," Hornets coach Byron Scott said.
The Celtics missed a chance to start the post-Auerbach era with a win. Auerbach, who won nine titles as a coach and seven more in the front office, died of a heart attack Saturday near his Washington home at the age of 89.
"We wanted to win so bad," Boston's Paul Pierce said. "We wanted to win for the fans. It was definitely emotional in my play."
Pierce, coming off the best of his previous seasons, almost made that happen with 29 points and 19 rebounds. But he missed 8 of his 15 free throws, including four in the fourth quarter. Wally Szczerbiak added 21 points and Al Jefferson had 13.
"I thought we relied so heavily on Paul and guys stopped moving the ball," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "And we just can't do that."
Pierce played with a white headband with the number 2 on it, symbolizing the number the Celtics had retired in Auerbach's honor. All the Celtics had black shamrocks on their jerseys with the word "RED" in green, which they plan to wear all season.
Auerbach, who had seen all 56 previous Celtics season openers, had planned to attend.
In a pre-game video, fans saw Auerbach holding one of the 16 championship trophies the Celtics won during his tenure -- nine as a coach. But they haven't won another since 1986. And they don't appear to be close despite a recent influx of youth and athleticism.
Rivers said the Celtics have to trust themselves to take open shots and not depend on Pierce for scoring.
"I know guys, a lot of them haven't been in this position before," Rivers said, "but that's going to be what's going to make or break us down the stretch of games."
The stretch is exactly where the Hornets dominated.
Trailing 85-80, the Celtics cut the deficit to 85-84 with 2:31 left on a layup by Pierce and one free throw each by Szczerbiak and Jefferson. But Stojakovic hit a driving layup with 1:34 remaining.
He followed with a 20-foot jumper before Pierce made one of two free throws, cutting the lead to 89-85 with 37 seconds remaining.
"I want the ball in those situations," said Stojakovic, who had 11 points in his first game since being obtained from Indiana in the offseason. "I am still trying to figure out where to get my shots."
David West added 18 points for the Hornets and newcomer Bobby Jackson scored 14.
West's tip-in with 12 seconds remaining made it 91-85 to secure the victory.
Paul, whose 10 assists came in the first half, scored the Hornets' last 12 points of the third quarter as they took a 75-65 lead going into the fourth.
"In the second half he went from passing the ball to taking control and he went to the basket because he saw the way we were defending him," Boston's Ryan Gomes said.
He also saw the crowd cheering for the team Auerbach led for more than five decades.
"We had to come and make the first punch," Paul said, "because with all the adrenaline, had they jumped on us early, we wouldn't have a chance."
- Referee Bill Spooner pulled his right hamstring with 9:14 left in the second quarter and didn't return, leaving Bennie Adams and Bill Kennedy to handle the game.
- Several fans chastised the Hornets for warming up during a halftime ceremony featuring former Celtics Tommy Heinsohn, Jo Jo White and M.L. Carr reminiscing about Auerbach. One shouted, "Stop shooting show some respect." Said another: "No wonder you don't have a city." The players then stopped shooting until the discussion ended.
- Red Sox slugger David Ortiz attended the game.