OKLAHOMA CITY -- The New Orleans Hornets held a promotion Monday night to encourage their fans to vote for Chris Paul as an All-Star starter, even having Paul take the microphone at the Ford Center before the game to ask for support.
His performance against the Cleveland Cavaliers proved a more eloquent argument than anything Paul, or anyone else, might say. Last season's NBA Rookie of the Year scored 30 points and added 11 assists and the Hornets overcame recent offensive woes to beat the Cavaliers 95-89.
"Chris Paul gave us 30 reasons" why he should be considered as an All-Star, Hornets coach Byron Scott said.
"That is pretty good. I have been saying this all along, that he is one of the best point guards in this league. There is no doubt about it, and this is just his second year," Scott said. "He is the main reason that we are .500 right now with all of the guys we have missing. ...He is carrying the load right now, and that is tough."
After starting the season 8-3, the Hornets -- who are without three of their top six players because of injuries -- had lost seven of their last eight games and had scored 80 points or fewer in four of those losses.
But they shot a season-best 54.7 percent from the field -- only the second time this season they've exceeded 50 percent -- and took advantage of a 4½-minute fourth-quarter scoreless stretch by the Cavaliers.
Cleveland led for much of the first three quarters and was up 73-72 entering the fourth before the teams swapped the lead nine times in a 3 ½-minute stretch.
The Cavaliers didn't score from the 9:08 mark until 4:24 remained, misfiring on six straight possessions and allowing New Orleans to build a 7-point lead. Two 3-pointers by rookie Daniel Gibson helped Cleveland tie the score at 89-89 with 2:36 left.
Cleveland had a chance to take the lead, but the Hornets' Tyson Chandler blocked a driving shot by LeBron James, and Paul scored at the other end with 1:45 left to put New Orleans ahead for good. After a Cleveland miss, Jannero Pargo added a runner in the lane at 1:02 and Paul made two insurance free throws with 19.2 seconds left.
The Cavaliers missed three 3-point shots in the final minute.
"We have got to figure out the next time we play these guys how to stop a guy like Chris Paul from creating like he did tonight for his teammates," Cleveland coach Mike Brown said.
James, hounded on defense for much of the game by the Hornets' Desmond Mason, finished with 15 points on 7-of-18 shooting -- well below his season average of 27.3 points per game -- and did not score in the fourth quarter, missing all four of his shots.
James had averaged 35.7 points in his last three games against the Hornets.
"They made me pass the ball so I just needed to find the open man," James said. "You just have to take what the defense gives you. I'm not going to force it."
Scott was more effusive in his praise of Mason.
"As soon as the game was over I told him (Mason) that he did an unbelievable job," Scott said. "It is hard to keep a great player like that from scoring in the fourth quarter, especially as much as he is going to have the ball."
Cleveland, led by 17 points from Anderson Varejao, fell to 4-2 this season against Western Conference teams. They had won seven straight games against the Hornets, dating to Dec. 23, 2003.
Cleveland led for most of the first half and took their largest lead to that point on a 3-pointer by Gibson that made it 48-41. The Hornets closed the half on a 10-3 run and tied the game at 51-51 on a jumper by Paul with 31 seconds left.
The pattern continued in the third quarter. The Hornets led for 40 seconds before Cleveland jumped back ahead. The Cavaliers' largest lead came with 4:45 left, when a drive and basket by James made it 69-62.
Paul almost singlehandedly kept New Orleans close with 11 third-quarter points, including a buzzer-beating 20-footer.
- Hornets owner George Shinn reaffirmed before the game his plans to return the team full-time to New Orleans next season, saying it was "the right thing to do."
- During his pre-game speech, Paul also encouraged Hornets fans to vote for three of his teammates on the All-Star ballot -- Peja Stojakovic, David West and Chandler.
- The Hornets announced the attendance as 19,164, the fifth sell-out of the season for the team and the fourth in Oklahoma City, although small pockets of empty seats were visible in the arena.
- West (right forearm strain), Stojakovic (back spasms) and Bobby Jackson (cracked rib) didn't play for the Hornets, while Drew Gooden (strained left groin) was out for Cleveland and is listed as day-to-day.