NEW ORLEANS -- Chris Paul overcame a lackluster first three quarters and reminded New Orleans what it has missed most since he was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers -- a player who takes over when it matters.
Paul scored eight of his 17 points in the final minute, when he also made a key defensive stop, and finished with 14 assists to help the Clippers erase a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit and beat the hapless Hornets 96-93 on Friday night.
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"We didn't have much energy tonight. That starts with me. I was dead early," Paul said. "We've got to win games like this. We've got to win ugly games. It's not always going to be pretty."
Blake Griffin scored 20 points and Matt Barnes 16, scoring three times during a critical stretch for the Clippers, who would have seen their hopes of earning home-court advantage in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs take a hit with a loss.
Instead, the Clippers won their fourth straight in large part thanks to Paul, who made a pull-up jumper to give Los Angeles a three-point lead with 52.3 seconds to go, thwarted Brian Roberts' driving layup attempt with 45 seconds left, and then made six straight free throws when the Hornets had to start fouling intentionally.
With Paul running Los Angeles' offense, the Clippers scored on their last 11 possessions, and 15 of their last 16, giving them 31 points during the last seven minutes.
"It was big for us because it also showed us that we're capable of buckling down and getting a win in a tough environment," Paul said.
The Clippers (53-26) play Saturday night at Memphis (54-25), one of the challengers to finish with the third- or fourth-best record in the West, along with Denver (54-25).
Eric Gordon scored 25 points for New Orleans, which has lost three straight.
Robin Lopez had 19 points and 12 rebounds for New Orleans, which was playing without forward Anthony Davis (left knee) and point guard Greivis Vasquez (right ankle).
Ryan Anderson scored 17 points, and Roberts had 15 points and 11 assists in a spot start at point guard.
Hornets coach Monty Williams said the 39 points New Orleans allowed in the fourth quarter was "tough to swallow," but added he was proud of the way his team threatened to upset the Pacific Division winners despite being without two starters.
"We are all feeling frustrated because we know we can win," Williams said.
Los Angeles held a slim lead midway through the third quarter after Griffin's step-back jumper. Then New Orleans surprisingly surged into the lead with a 9-0 run that included Anderson's 3 and two layups by Roberts, one on a fast break after his steal.
The Hornets' lead grew to 75-65 on Gordon's free throws with 8:31 to go.
New Orleans still led by eight, 80-72, after Gordon's 3 with 5:13 left. Then Paul scored on a baseline drive, initiating a 24-13 run to close the game.
"In that fourth quarter, we didn't panic, but we did get too jittery," Roberts said. "I think going through this right now will help this young team in the future.
Guard Eric Bledsoe played a pivotal role down the stretch after Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro decided to go with a smaller, quicker lineup that he hoped would get New Orleans out of rhythm along the perimeter and allow Paul to play off the ball more.
"I just felt like we had to scramble the game up," Del Negro said. "We had no real energy and no real rhythm. Sometimes you have to roll the dice and it worked this time."
Los Angeles struggled badly from 3-point range, missing 19 of 26. But Jamal Crawford made two late 3s after missing six of his first seven and finished with 15 points.
"We did a poor job through three quarters of getting good shots and getting stops," Griffin said. "For us to respond like that is a positive, but we can't play like that."
The Hornets outworked Los Angeles inside much of the game, finishing with 19 offensive rebounds and 27 second-chance points, but New Orleans also was a dismal 6 for 19 from 3-point range and was hurt by 15 missed free throws.
Both teams went through stretches in which their play was not sharp in the opening two quarters. The Hornets missed 11 free throws and 10 3s in the first half, during which the Clippers missed 12 3s and turned the ball over eight times.
Griffin had nine early points on three dunks, a layup and a free throw, but did not score in the second quarter, when he attempted two 3s, missing both. Lopez kept the Hornets close early with 15 of his points in the first half. After New Orleans had missed its first 10 3-point attemtps, Roberts finally made one late in the half to match one made by Paul moments earlier and cut the Clippers' lead to 43-40 at halftime.
The Hornets finished 1-3 against the Clippers this season. ... Roberts was making his fourth start of the season, he had averaged 11.7 points in his previous three starts. ... De Andre Jordon limped off the court after falling awkwardly in the third quarter, but returned to the game.