NEW ORLEANS -- Chris Paul found an unconventional way to deliver a knock-out blow to one of the better defensive teams in the NBA.
With New Orleans clinging to an 87-86 lead over San Antonio, Paul split two defenders on the dribble and heaved up a wild, inaccurate shot from behind well behind the 3-point line as he was being fouled by Manu Ginobili.
The result was three free throws for Paul, who calmly made them all with 7.1 seconds left, helping the depleted Hornets hold on for a 90-86 victory over the Spurs on Sunday night.
"He told the ref before, like, 'Look man, I'm going to shoot the ball if they come in and foul me,"' Hornets forward David West said. "It's a tricky play to make, but he knows how to be in the act of shooting when those guys are coming to make sure he gets those extra free throws."
Paul finished with 26 points and West scored 23 points to go with 16 rebounds. West made all 11 of his free throws and Paul made all nine of his. The Hornets were 32-for-33 from the foul line overall, making their last 31, to compensate for 37.5 percent shooting.
"We showed a lot of fight," Paul said. "We showed what this team is capable of if we play hard for 48 minutes."
Yet, even with their "big three" all playing well, San Antonio still needed an extraordinary comeback attempt in the final 30 seconds to give themselves a chance.
New Orleans appeared to have the game wrapped up when Rasual Butler's free throws gave the Hornets an 87-80 lead with 29.6 seconds to go. Then Ginobili hit a quick 3, Butler turned the ball over trying to catch an inbound pass, and Michael Finley hit another 3 to pull the Spurs to 87-86 with 17.8 seconds to go.
Paul was the difference in the end, taking West's inbound pass in the back court, then splitting Finley and Parker on the dribble before getting fouled on his risky but alert 3-point attempt.
The Spurs argued vehemently that Paul was fouled before the shot. The officials gathered to discuss it, but ultimately put Paul on the line. San Antonio was left with too little time to answer again and saw their three-game winning streak end, while New Orleans won for the first time in three games.
"It's a big win for them," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "Obviously they were undermanned, pretty significantly, and they did a great job. ... They played more aggressively than we did and they wanted the game more."
The Hornets came into the game missing three key players because of injuries to center Tyson Chandler (left ankle) and Peja Stojakovic (back) and the one-game suspension of primary reserve James Posey, who was punished for throwing a ball at the feet of a referee during a loss in New York on Friday night.
Hornets coach Byron Scott responded by giving more playing time to backup point guard Antonio Daniels, who sometimes joined Paul in the back court. Daniels wound up with 10 points in 21 minutes.
"I told the guys before the game, 'We are a wounded animal, our backs are against the wall and we have no choice but to come out fighting,' and we did that for 48 minutes," Scott said. "Antonio Daniels gave us a big lift ... allowing me to take CP [Paul] off the ball and take him off Tony Parker."
The victory lifted New Orleans (45-27) into a tie for sixth with Utah in the Western Conference playoff race. The Spurs (48-25) remained in second, but their lead over Denver was trimmed to half a game.
The Spurs led 47-43 at halftime and went up by six after Duncan's driving layup early in third quarter, but wound up shooting only 26.3 percent (5-for-19) during the period as the lead slowly slipped away.
The Hornets were 7-for-7 for free throws during a 9-0 run to close out the third quarter. The spurt gave New Orleans, which entered the game with a 36-3 record when leading after three periods, a 68-63 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
The Hornets held on in large part because of Paul's 12 points in the final 12 minutes. Twice in the period, he drew fouls on 3-point attempts, making every free throw. He also forced Parker to turn the ball over out of bounds on a fast break and poked what looked like a certain defensive rebound away from Duncan.
His ball-handling in traffic was spectacular, as usual, allowing him to set up his teammates. He finished with nine assists, including a big one on West's jumper with 39 seconds to go.
- Parker, now in his eighth NBA season, passed 10,000 career points with his eighth point of the game on a fast-break layup late in the first quarter.
- The Spurs and Hornets split their previous two games and meet once more on April 15 in San Antonio.
- San Antonio is 3-4 in its last six road games.
- The Spurs dropped 28-10 when all of their "big three" (Duncan, Ginobili and Parker) are in the lineup.