Chris Paul played as hard and long as needed to give the New Orleans Hornets a desperately needed victory in the playoffs.
Paul had 32 points and 12 assists in 46 minutes, helping New Orleans hold on for a 95-93 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday in Game 3 of their first-round series.
Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points for Denver, but missed a jumper that could have put the Nuggets in the lead with under 5 seconds left. James Posey, playing with a sprained knee, corralled the rebound and New Orleans held on, pulling to 2-1 in the series with Game 4 coming up on Monday night.
David West had 19 points and nine rebounds before fouling out in the final minute. Rasual Butler scored 17 points and Posey had 13 points and nine rebounds, none bigger than his last with 3.2 seconds left.
Chauncey Billups scored 16 points, J.R. Smith had 14, Linas Kleiza 13 and Kenyon Martin 12.
Desperate to avoid a 3-0 series hole, the Hornets asserted themselves with physical play. Along with West, Tyson Chandler also fouled out.
Chandler, who had five fouls midway through the third quarter, was called for a flagrant foul when sent Dahntay Jones flying over the baseline. Later, Posey was called for a flagrant foul and he pulled Chris Andersen to the floor, though he appeared to be trying to hold Andersen up.
Hornets coach Byron Scott was furious with the call, arguing until official Bennett Salvatore called a technical. Soon after, officials called Smith for a technical when bumped Paul to the floor on a fast break.
New Orleans managed to hold the lead for most of the third period, going up 77-72 on Butler's 3-pointer just before the quarter ended. Butler added another tough 3 over Kleiza, putting New Orleans up 82-74 early in the fourth.
The fouls kept coming down the stretch and there were 58 total personal fouls called in the game. Chandler fouled out with 4:39 remaining, forcing Scott to put Posey back in with five fouls. Later, Billups was called for flagrant foul when his arm caught Butler across the face, drawing blood, while Butler attempted to complete a fast break.
Nene fouled out when he was called for tripping Paul with 3:13 to go. The Hornets went more than six minutes without a field goal late in the fourth quarter, but made eight free throws to stay ahead.
New Orleans led 94-86 after Butler's free throws with 1:33 left, but Anthony's 3 pulled Denver to 94-89 with 1:23 to go. Martin made a pair of free throws with 48 seconds left, then West fouled out 25 seconds remaining and Billups hit two free throws to make it 94-93.
Kleiza then stole Peja Stojakovic's inbounds pass intended for Posey and Denver set up for a potential winning possession. The Hornets' defense collapsed inside, forcing Anthony to take an off-balance jumper that bounced out.
Hoping to start strong as the series returned to New Orleans, the Hornets did the opposite. Fans who traditionally stand from the opening tip until the Hornets score were still on their feet when New Orleans, down 8-0, called timeout a little more than two minutes into the game.
The Hornets didn't score until Paul made a driving floater with 8:44 left to make it 10-2. By the time the Hornets called their second timeout, Denver was up 20-6.
Paul made four of his first five shots, but his teammates were 0-for-11 until a 3 by Posey, whose presence changed the game. He scored 10 points during a 13-2 run that pulled New Orleans to 24-21.
Midway through the second quarter, the Hornets took their first lead, 40-38, on Stojakovic's fast-break layup. Posey returned form his sprained knee late in the quarter, hitting two free throws in the final second to put New Orleans up 50-47 at halftime.
The Hornets outscored the Nuggets 29-21 in the second period, the first time this series New Orleans had outscored Denver in a quarter. ... Smith, a former Hornets first-round draft pick, has scored 10 or more points in seven straight playoff games. ... Billups was held below 30 for the first time this series.
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