But it was the rookie point guard that stole the spotlight, helping the Charlotte Bobcats to an unlikely win.
D.J. Augustin, the ninth pick in the draft and for now Felton's backup, spearheaded Charlotte's comeback Friday night, keying a fourth-quarter rally as the Bobcats spoiled Paul's homecoming in a 92-89 victory over the New Orleans Hornets.
New coach Larry Brown's second win in five games with the Bobcats came after a decision to go with an odd lineup midway through the fourth quarter. Augustin, Adam Morrison and Matt Carroll helped the Bobcats go on a 14-2 run, with Augustin's 3-pointer giving Charlotte an 85-78 lead with 2:54 left.
Charlotte then survived New Orleans' late charge, with Felton hitting two free throws before Paul missed a tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer.
Augustin, the former Texas star, finished with 11 points, four assists and one turnover.
"I don't look at him as a sub," Brown said. "I think it's important that he plays against somebody like Chris Paul."
Paul, who grew up 90 minutes away and bought 500 tickets for friends and family, recovered from a scoreless first half to have 20 points, 10 assists and six steals. But Paul had a key turnover in the final minute before missing a long jumper from the right wing as time expired, sending the Hornets to their second straight loss after a 3-0 start.
"They did a good job of closing off the lane," Paul said. "I wasn't able to get in there as easy and create shots for our shooters."
Felton and Jason Richardson scored 20 points apiece for the Bobcats, who made 29 of 31 free throws and got a big contribution from the bench. Morrison was 3-of-5 on 3-pointers and scored nine points, getting feeds from Augustin.
"He's great. You can see him growing as a young point guard," Morrison said. "We're still barely into the season, but he makes big plays."
The Hornets rallied from an ugly first half behind Paul to take as much as a five-point lead midway through the fourth quarter.
After the Augustin-fueled Charlotte comeback, the Hornets got within striking distance on two 3-pointers by Peja Stojakovic, who had 20 points. The second cut Charlotte's lead to 90-89 with 14 seconds left.
But the Bobcats prevailed, earning a loud cheer from the small crowd. But it was far from the atmosphere 20 years ago this week when the Hornets debuted in a frenzied Charlotte.
The Hornets seemed interested in reminiscing in the second quarter, putting on a brutal display that rivaled the ineptitude of that 62-loss, Kurt Rambis-led expansion team of 1988-89.
The Hornets were outscored 21-7, shot 3-for-17 and missed all five 3-point attempts in falling behind 47-35 at halftime. Paul, playing passively, was 0-for-2 from the field with one assist in the first half and thoroughly outplayed by his former college rival, Felton, who had 11 points.
Paul, who grew up in Winston-Salem, left his cheering section disappointing. It was also not what Hornets coach Byron Scott had in mind.
Upset with the team's defense and rebounding in Wednesday's loss to Atlanta, Scott put his team through a grueling two-hour practice Thursday that included nearly all running and defensive drills and no scrimmaging or work on offensive sets.
Paul got more aggressive in the third quarter, driving to the basket and scoring 14 points as the Hornets got within 66-61. He had consecutive steals and hit a fadeaway as New Orleans took a 76-71 lead.
But the team that moved to New Orleans in 2002 couldn't hold on -- and Augustin had plenty to do with it.
"Every game is a learning experience for me," Augustin said. "They are a very good team and it's a good momentum builder for us."
|Jason Richardson nets 20 points to help give the Bobcats a win over one of the NBA's elite teams. (AP)|
|New Orleans (3-2)||28||7||26||28||89|
|Charlotte (2-3) «||26||21||19||26||92|
|NO:P. Stojakovic 20 Pts
NO:P. Stojakovic 7 Reb
NO:C. Paul 10 Ast
|CHA:J. Richardson 20 Pts
CHA:E. Okafor 10 Reb
CHA:D. Augustin 4 Ast
|Players of the Game|
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|D. West, PF||41||3-12||5-6||5||1||6||11|
|C. Paul, PG||39||8-13||3-5||3||10||5||20|
|P. Stojakovic, SG||32||7-16||0-0||7||1||1||20|
|T. Chandler, C||31||1-4||0-0||7||3||5||2|
|M. Peterson, SG||19||4-11||1-1||4||1||1||10|
|J. Posey, SF||29||4-6||1-1||6||3||4||11|
|R. Butler, SG||18||3-7||0-0||0||0||1||7|
|H. Armstrong, PF||17||1-4||4-6||4||1||3||6|
|M. James, PG||9||0-1||0-0||0||1||1||0|
|D. Brown, SG||6||1-2||0-0||1||0||0||2|
|R. Bowen, SF||Did Not Play|
|S. Marks, C||Did Not Play|
|M. Ely, C||Did Not Play|
|J. Wright, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|E. Okafor, C||40||4-5||2-2||10||1||2||10|
|G. Wallace, SF||37||1-5||6-6||7||2||3||8|
|J. Richardson, SG||31||5-14||8-9||5||1||2||20|
|R. Felton, PG||28||7-9||5-5||1||3||3||20|
|J. Dudley, PF||16||0-5||0-0||1||0||2||0|
|M. Carroll, SG||28||3-8||1-1||4||3||1||7|
|D. Augustin, PG||21||3-8||4-4||0||4||1||11|
|A. Brown, SF||15||1-2||0-0||6||0||4||2|
|A. Morrison, SF||15||3-9||0-0||3||1||1||9|
|N. Mohammed, C||5||1-2||2-2||0||0||0||4|
|A. Ajinca, C||3||0-0||1-2||0||0||3||1|
|L. Johnson, PF||Did Not Play|
|S. May, PF||Did Not Play|
|S. Brown, PG||Did Not Play|
|R. Hollins, C||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|