NEW ORLEANS -- In a relieved New Orleans locker room, Chris Paul and James Posey chatted about all the hard fouls, all the flying bodies that more than anything defined the Hornets' first win of this postseason.
"This is the fun part of the playoffs, all the contact, all the flagrant fouls," Paul said. "You never want anyone to get hurt, but after it's all said and done, you smile about it because that's the nature of the sport."
Playing a grueling 46 minutes and shaking off a hard foul committed against him, Paul had 32 points and 12 assists, helping New Orleans hold on for a 95-93 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday in Game 3 of their first-round series.
The Hornets cut Denver's lead in the series to 2-1, with Game 4 on Monday night.
Posey, who sprained his right knee in the first quarter but returned before halftime, had 13 points and nine rebounds, none more important than his last, which came after Carmelo Anthony's jumper for the lead bounced out with less than seconds left.
Posey also played the last 4:39 with five fouls.
"I wanted to finish out the game, just be smart about it," Posey said. "The fouls I did commit, I felt were needed at the time -- nothing easy, make them earn it at the free throw line."
The game was loaded with hard fouls; there were 58 personal fouls called in all, 29 on each team. Two players on each team fouled out -- David West and Tyson Chandler for New Orleans, and Nene and Kenyon Martin for Denver.
Chandler, Posey and Denver's Chauncey Billups were called for flagrant fouls. J.R. Smith was called for a technical foul after he collided with Paul late in the third quarter, sending Paul crashing to the court during a fast break.
Breathing heavily and in pain, Paul seemed in no hurry to get up, but eventually made his way to the foul line and hit a pair of key free throws.
Paul's only rest came early in the fourth quarter, with the Hornets leading by eight. He sat for only two minutes.
"I had in my mind that C.P. was going to play the whole 48," said Hornets coach Byron Scott. "He came out and played like the best point guard in the world. He understood what was at stake."
Scott also was called for technical foul when he argued with official Bennett Salvatore over the flagrant called on Posey, during which the Hornets forward grabbed Chris Andersen to stop him from scoring and Andersen fell.
"It was a terrible call," Scott said. "Chauncey Billups' (flagrant) foul on Rasual (Butler), if it would have been James Posey, they probably would have thrown him out of the game. Posey didn't do anything. He tried to hold (Andersen) up on the foul. It was a good, hard foul, but to get a flagrant on the foul, you have to almost throw the guy down as well. It was a terrible call."
Billups gave Butler a bloody nose on his hard foul during a Hornets fast break, and Butler crashed to the floor and slid across the baseline.
Before the game, Scott had his son give Paul a note reminding the point guard that great players aren't always great, just most of the time. Paul understood it as a message to forget about losses in the series' first two games and rise to the occasion with the team desperate to win Game 3.
"He's so good that he'll always get something going," Denver coach George Karl began, "but this was the first night where he kind of got everything."
Paul shot 11-of-20 with two 3-pointers and was 8-of-9 from the free throw line. He also helped the Hornets slow down Billups, who surpassed 30 points in each of the first two games but finished with 16 points in Game 3.
Denver shot 40.5 percent after shooting 50 percent in each of the first two games.
"The only disappointing part of the game was our offense," Karl said. "I thought we settled. ... They were doubling 'Melo and I don't think we took advantage of that the way we were capable of."
Anthony still scored 25 points.
West had 19 points and nine rebounds for New Orleans. Butler scored 17 points and Sean Marks, one of only three Hornets reserves to play in the game, made key contributions with eight points and six rebounds.
Denver led 10-0 in the opening minutes and 20-6 when the Hornets took their second timeout. While Paul made four of his first five shots, his teammates were 0-for-11 until Posey's 3. Posey wound up scoring 10 points during a 13-2 run that got New Orleans back in the game. Marks added an inside basket as he was fouled.
"The game could have really gotten ugly for us," Paul said. "Those guys kept us in it."
New Orleans fought back and led by as much as 90-79 with 3:13 to go. Denver had a 7-0 run in the last 1:23, starting with Anthony's 3. Linas Kleiza then stole Peja Stojakovic's inbound pass and Denver set up for the potential winning shot.
Anthony tried to pass to Martin, who was open underneath, but Marks tipped it away as the Hornets defense collapsed inside. Anthony grabbed the ball, dribbled left and took a rushed jumper that bounced out.
- Anthony hurt his right elbow in the fourth quarter. Team officials said the injury was a contusion and that he was probable for Game 4.
- The Hornets outscored the Nuggets 29-21 in the second period, the first time this series New Orleans had outscored Denver in a quarter.