4-19-08 -- The jitters that come with an NBA playoff debut prevented Chris Paul from taking his typical afternoon nap before playing the Dallas Mavericks.
Unfortunately for the Mavs, Paul was the same player he’s been all season when the Hornets needed him most, and the same “M-V-P!” chants that rained down from the New Orleans Arena stands during numerous recent triumphs made a thunderous postseason return.
Paul had 35 points, 10 assists and four steals in his first playoff game Saturday night, lifting New Orleans to a 104-92 come-from-behind victory over Dallas in Game 1 of their first-round series.
“Today, after shootaround, I couldn’t go to sleep,” Paul said, explaining that he instead tuned in to Game 1 of the Cleveland-Washington series, then some of the San Antonio-Phoenix opener. “I saw the intensity of it … and I was like, ‘Man, this is serious.”’
Then he went out and performed like a playoff veteran, taking the game over with 15 third-quarter points as the Hornets erased a 12-point halftime lead.
“Before we started the second half, I told him ’ … when series like this are up in the air, you’ve got to go out there and impose your will,”’ Hornets coach Byron Scott said.
Scott had said leading up to this series that playoff experience was valuable but overrated.
What else was he going to say?
The Mavericks have been in the playoffs eight years in a row. The Hornets hadn’t been to the postseason in four years, and their only current player on the roster back then was West, who was a rookie reserve.
But for one game, at least, Scott’s logic looked sound.
West scored 23 points against Dallas. Tyson Chandler had 10 points and 15 rebounds to help New Orleans not only storm back but win going away.
Dirk Nowitzki had his way with New Orleans early and finished with 31 points, but scored only four during Dallas’ fourth-quarter collapse. Josh Howard added 17 points for the Mavericks, who were in the finals two years ago.
“It’s one game,” Nowitzki said. “The team that loses has to go back, adjust and find ways to get it done the next game.”
Jason Kidd, the All-Star point guard the Mavericks were hoping would be the missing piece to a championship run when they traded for him midseason, finished with 11 points and nine assists.
But the Mavericks had only nine field goals in the second half and no answer Paul, whose third year in the NBA has included a maiden All-Star game nod and serious consideration for league MVP.
“In the third quarter he just dominated the game,” Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. “We tried giving him a couple different looks, but we’re going to have to be much more sound in our defense. We can’t let him get out of our traps.”
The Hornets also got 14 points from Peja Stojakovic, one of their few grizzled playoff vets, who hit a pair of 3-pointers in the final period to help squelch any notion of a Dallas comeback.
Dallas, which lost, stunningly, in the first round of last year’s playoffs to eighth-seeded Golden State, won’t go down without a struggle. With this game out of reach, the Mavs seemed to be already psyching themselves up for the next contest with physical play.
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Nowitzki and West were assessed double technicals after exchanging words, nose-to-nose, with West holding his hand up to the edge of Nowitzki’s cheek. Afterward, both players downplayed the brief standoff as typical playoff intensity.
New Orleans looked like a tight group in the first half, missing open jumpers, free throws, even a layup. The Hornets were 9-of-27 shooting in the first quarter, when Dallas took a 26-19 lead behind 11 points from Nowitzki.
Hustling defense kept the Hornets within single digits most of the first half, but Dallas, which missed its first nine 3-point attempts, went ahead 49-38 on Kidd’s open 3 late in the second period. Howard added another in the final seconds, putting the Mavs ahead 52-40 at halftime.
The Hornets desperately needed a player to rise to the occasion on offense in the third quarter—and Paul came through.
He had a 7-0 run by himself on a jumper, driving floater and fast-break layup as he was fouled to pull New Orleans to 65-63. The Hornets tied it at 68 on Bonzi Wells’ jumper with 2:20 to go in the third period, then Wells’ steal led to Paul’s fast-break layup for a 70-68 lead.
Chandler’s follow-up dunk made it 76-72 at the end of the third, during which New Orleans outscored Dallas 36-20.
Paul then hit a floater, set up Chandler’s alley-oop and West’s layup during a 10-0 run early in the fourth quarter to put New Orleans up 86-74.
“In the first half I thought we came out a little anxious, not loose enough,” West said. “In the second half we got back to doing the things that got us to this point, and we were able to take over the game.”
Before tipoff, the Hornets hung their Southwest Division championship banner from the rafters after a brief comment from team owner George Shinn. “Many people didn’t think would come back; they were wrong,” Shinn began. “Many people didn’t think we’d have fan support; they were wrong. Many people didn’t think we’d make the playoffs; they were wrong again.” … The Hornets missed five of their seven free throws in the first half, while Dallas made 16-of-19 during that span.