"Back in the locker room, right before we break huddle and come out to the game, we said, 'No excuses,' " West recalled. "Regardless of how I was feeling, I just knew how important this game was for us as a basketball team. I knew I had to play well. I went out there with the intent to play well and things just went my way."
Did they ever.
West had career playoff highs of 38 points, 14 rebounds and five blocked shots, lifting New Orleans to a 101-79 victory against the Spurs on Tuesday night and a 3-2 series lead.
New Orleans looked impressive in winning the first two games at home but stumbled in San Antonio. Back in the Big Easy, the Hornets cruised again.
"We've proved all season long we're one of the better teams in the NBA," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "We had every reason after Games 3 and 4 to fold, but again, being with these guys, they've showed this type of resilience all season, so I'm not surprised."
Chris Paul had 16 of his 22 points in the second half and added 14 assists for the Hornets, who've never advanced past the second round of the playoffs in the franchise's 20-year history.
"They did a great job of crowding the paint and also getting back to our shooters," Duncan said of the Hornets' defenders. "They were very physical on the post. I didn't shoot the ball very well and those opportunities kind of turned into them running it back at us."
Game 6 will be Thursday night in San Antonio, where the Spurs are 5-0 in the postseason. The Hornets are now 6-0 at in playoff games in New Orleans, where Game 7 would be, if necessary.
Guarded mostly by Tyson Chandler, Duncan was 5-for-18 shooting, but Chandler left the game early in the fourth quarter with a bruised left foot. Meanwhile, a trainer put an ice pack on West's back after he left the game in the final minutes as the Hornets All-Star forward grimaced in pain.
Scott said both were in obvious pain, but he did not expect either of them to miss the next game.
"I landed funny and kind of lost feeling and couldn't really put pressure on it," Chandler said. "I didn't want to hurt the team by trying to be heroic. I'll be fine. I'll definitely be fine for the next game."
West was dominant on both ends of the floor throughout despite his pain, with four of his blocks coming in the second half, one from behind the play on what seemed like a certain layup by Ime Udoka.
"He wasn't 100 percent, but we couldn't tell. He was a beast out there," Hornets guard Morris Peterson said. "He played probably the best game of his career. His back was a little sore today, and I think it was carrying us so much during this game. He had us on his back all day."
Peterson had 12 points for New Orleans on four 3-pointers, picking up the slack for Peja Stojakovic, who was guarded closely again.
Stojakovic still managed a crucial transition 3 in the fourth quarter, however, giving the Hornets an 81-68 lead with 7:05 to go.
San Antonio pulled to 85-77 on Udoka's third 3-pointer, but Paul responded with a driving layup with 4:33 left and scored again on a pass from West to turn back the Spurs' rally.
Paul, who had six points in the first half, scored nine points and set up Chandler for an alley-oop dunk during a 20-4 Hornets run to open the third quarter. Peterson's 3 capped the surge, giving New Orleans a 64-51 lead.
While Stojakovic managed only nine points, he recognized who had the hot hand. His pass to the corner set up Peterson's fourth 3, which put the Hornets ahead 68-54. Paul then added two free throws, giving him 12 for the quarter, and West scored his 30th point of the game on a jumper over Parker, giving the Hornets a 72-58 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Duncan was held scoreless until early the second quarter, but the Spurs hit their first four 3s and six of their first eight. Ginobili's second 3 put San Antonio up 37-30.
West, who had 22 in the opening half, got New Orleans to 38-36 on a jumper late in the second quarter, then tied it at 43 when he put back a blocked fast-break layup.
The Spurs took a 47-44 lead into halftime after Parker got up from a hard foul and sank two free throws in the final seconds.
Then, as in the first two games of this series, the Hornets stormed ahead in the third quarter, this time outscoring San Antonio 28-11 in the decisive period.
"The New Orleans defense was great tonight," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "They played fantastic, especially in the third quarter, and that's when they got away from us and that was the end of the game."
- Popovich was called for a technical between the first and second quarters while arguing with referee Joe Crawford about an earlier delay of game call.
- Robert Horry's appearance for San Antonio gave him 238 in the playoffs, surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the most in NBA history.
- New Orleans' Melvin Ely and Fabricio Oberto of the Spurs were called for double fouls and double technicals after a collision under the San Antonio basket in the first quarter.
- Saints quarterback Drew Brees, among the local celebrities at the game, signed a football brought to him by a Hornets mascot and threw it to a fan in the upper deck of the arena.