"I don't think I ever hit any game-winners here," Paul said.
Time to check that off of his list.
Returning again to the city where his NBA career got started, Paul drove the lane for a layup with 2.7 seconds left to lift the New Orleans Hornets to a 100-98 victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday night.
Paul won the Rookie of the Year award after his debut season, when the Hornets played most of their games at the Ford Center after being forced out of their home because of Hurricane Katrina. But all of the big game-winners that season and the next were hit by David West, and not Paul.
This time, Paul looked at coach Byron Scott after Kevin Durant's tying 3-pointer with 13.8 seconds to play and urged him not to call a timeout. That allowed him to attack a Thunder defense that didn't have a chance to catch its breath and develop a game plan for stopping him.
He made up for a drive to the basket one possession earlier that ended with rookie Kyle Weaver swatting his shot to give Oklahoma City the chance to tie in the first place.
"It was the same move I made when we were up three and he blocked it. I got my body on him a little bit more," Paul said.
The Thunder are now 1-7 in games decided by one or two points.
"It's tough, man, especially when the game was pretty much in your hands -- guarding the guy that scores the last bucket," Weaver said. "It's going to sting a little bit."
West led the Hornets with 37 points and 13 rebounds, while Paul finished with 21 points and eight assists in the team's first game since trading starting center Tyson Chandler to the Thunder earlier in the day for veterans Joe Smith and Chris Wilcox, plus second-round pick DeVon Hardin.
Chandler was due to make about $12 million next season, and the move helps keep the Hornets under the salary cap.
"It really bothers me the fact that it came down to a basketball decision as opposed to something dealing with basketball. Coach told us before the game, as much as he meant to this basketball team and as close as we were to him, it's a business and when the games come before us, we've got to be ready to play."
Durant followed an All-Star weekend to remember with a career-high 47 points, capped by his fallaway 3-pointer from the right wing off an inbounds pass from Russell Westbrook. Durant had scored a record 46 points in the Rookie Challenge game and won the H-O-R-S-E competition during All-Star festivities in Phoenix over the weekend.
Jeff Green added 24 points and Westbrook scored 12 points for Oklahoma City.
West kept the Hornets ahead by scoring 16 of his points in the third quarter, after Oklahoma City cut into a 15-point deficit with a 9-0 run just before halftime.
But Durant came through with 12 points against New Orleans' reserves to start the fourth quarter and put the Thunder up 83-82 on his 3-pointer from the right wing with 9:52 left. That started to a series of lead changes and ties.
West hit a layup with 2:32 left to put New Orleans ahead 96-95, and then Weaver and Westbrook missed 3-pointers for the Thunder on back-to-back possessions before West struck again. He stutter-stepped to get space against Nenad Krstic and then nailed an 18-foot jumper from the left wing to push the lead to three.
Weaver then came up with his block against Paul.
"I needed one more tonight, though," Weaver said.
Paul came away with a basket the next trip down, the Hornets escaped with the win they needed after heading into the All-Star break with six losses in eight games and then getting the sudden news of Chandler's departure. New Orleans was sixth in the Western Conference heading into the game, needing a strong final push to ensure a second straight trip to the playoffs.
"It just leaves a big question mark in the middle. I think we were all kind of looking forward to him getting back healthy and plugging that middle up for us. Now we just don't know," West said.
"We hope that these guys coming in can come in and provide some presence."
|Chris Paul's late basket lifts the Hornets and sends Jeff Green and the Thunder to defeat. (Getty Images)|
|New Orleans (31-20) «||32||21||25||22||100|
|Oklahoma City (13-41)||18||29||24||27||98|
|NO:D. West 37 Pts
NO:D. West 13 Reb
NO:C. Paul 8 Ast
|OKC:K. Durant 47 Pts
OKC:N. Krstic 10 Reb
OKC:E. Watson 7 Ast
|Players of the Game|
|Oklahoma City||New Orleans|
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|D. West, PF||41||13-20||11-12||13||3||2||37|
|C. Paul, PG||37||9-18||1-2||3||8||2||21|
|P. Stojakovic, SG||36||4-10||0-0||5||1||1||11|
|R. Butler, SG||35||5-11||0-0||8||1||3||12|
|S. Marks, C||25||2-3||2-3||5||0||4||6|
|J. Posey, SF||28||4-10||0-0||2||2||3||9|
|A. Daniels, PG||14||1-1||0-0||0||1||1||2|
|R. Bowen, SF||9||0-0||0-0||0||1||1||0|
|H. Armstrong, PF||9||1-5||0-0||3||0||1||2|
|D. Brown, SG||7||0-1||0-0||2||0||0||0|
|M. Peterson, SG||Did Not Play|
|T. Chandler, C||Did Not Play|
|M. Ely, C||Did Not Play|
|J. Wright, SF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|
|K. Durant, SF||43||16-27||11-13||3||2||3||47|
|J. Green, SF||42||9-17||5-7||7||1||3||24|
|R. Westbrook, PG||34||5-15||2-2||5||4||5||12|
|K. Weaver, SG||33||2-7||0-0||6||3||2||5|
|N. Collison, C||27||0-3||1-2||8||0||2||1|
|N. Krstic, C||31||3-6||1-1||10||2||2||7|
|E. Watson, PG||23||0-6||0-0||5||7||0||0|
|C. Atkins, PG||6||1-3||0-0||1||0||0||2|
|J. Smith, PF||Did Not Play|
|D. Mason, SF||Did Not Play|
|C. Wilcox, PF||Did Not Play|
|R. Swift, C||Did Not Play|
|D. Wilkins, SG||Did Not Play|
|M. Sene, C||Did Not Play|
|D. White, PF||Did Not Play|
|Complete Box Score|