4-22-08 -- Dirk Nowitzki skipped out to the perimeter, joining Jason Kidd as they attempted to trap Chris Paul.
Paul promptly let them know they were in for long night, knifing into the lane on the dribble and dropping in a pretty floater.
As brilliant as Paul was in his playoff debut last weekend, his encore was better.
Paul had 32 points and a franchise playoff-record 17 assists, leading New Orleans to a 127-103 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night that gave the Hornets a 2-0 lead in their first-round series.
The old record was 15 assists, set by Muggsy Bogues in 1993.
“Sitting there watching Chris really develop into the best point guard in this league, it’s amazing to watch how he’s really risen his game to another level,” Hornets coach Byron Scott said. “But that’s what great players do. He’s definitely one of the best on this league right now.”
David West scored 27 points and Peja Stojakovic 22 for New Orleans, which took a double-digit lead in the second quarter, led by as much as 25 in the third and never looked back.
Tyson Chandler had his second double-double of the series with 10 points and 11 rebounds, despite playing with foul trouble. Morris Peterson added 12 points and reserve guard Jannero Pargo had 10 for New Orleans, which was 10-of-18 on 3-pointers, with Stojakovic hitting 5-of-7.
“They were going to try some gimmick stuff” against Paul, West said. “It was key that we had the confidence with the ball out of his hands for us to make plays. Peja hit shots, Mo was able to hit some shots. It really disrupted what they were trying to do.”
The series now moves to Dallas, where the Hornets have not won since January 1998. But that streak will end if the Mavericks don’t figure out how to slow down Paul and a supporting cast that has been playing with enormous confidence since the Hornets stormed back from a 12-point hole to win the series opener.
“We’ll take a look at some things, but we’ve got to have a better effort,” Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. “We’ve got to go home and get some home cooking. … They protected their home court; we have a chance to go home and do the same thing. Like I’ve been saying all along, they are a No. 2 seed that deserves to be No. 2 and we’ve got to play much better.”
Nowitzki led Dallas with 27 points, but spent most of the night looking frustrated, yelling at no one in particular after he threw one pass out of bounds. Brandon Bass was another bright spot for Dallas, muscling inside for 19 points. Reserve Jason Terry added 16 points and Josh Howard scored 10.
“We just got outplayed and outfought. They outworked us on both ends of the floor,” Terry said. “We have to play a lot harder and just fight. We have a lot of guys with pride in this locker room. When you take a butt kicking like that, you can only dig deep and come out swinging.”
The Mavs hoped Kidd would be a bigger factor in this game, but he finished with only seven points and eight assists. Johnson, however, declined to single out Kidd or anyone else.
“It’s not one person,” he said “It’s a team game and collectively the team has to do a better job on both ends.”
After Paul’s dazzling 35-point, 10-assist performance in Game 1, Johnson said the Mavs would throw more double-teams at Paul, hoping to get the ball out of the star point guard’s hands.
The strategy backfired badly from the start. Paul easily split or dribbled around double-teams, scoring six points and assisting on eight baskets in the first quarter.
His crossover, between-the-legs and behind-the-back dribbles set up an array of running floaters, fades and jumpers. He found West for several open jumpers and a dunk. He twice found Chandler for alley-oop dunks. The Hornets shot a whopping 71 percent and set a franchise playoff record with 39 first-quarter points.
“They put the ball in Paul’s hands. We tried to trap him some early, but if West is going to be wide open at the top of the key, he’s making the shot,” Nowitzki said. “It’s tough to get the ball out of his hands if the shooters are shooting like that.”
Dallas got its deficit briefly back to single digits behind 16 first-half points from Nowitzki and 10 from Howard.
But the Mavs hurt themselves with seven turnovers in the second period, which the Hornets converted into 10 points, often in transition, as they widened their lead to 67-51 by halftime.
Whatever adjustments the Mavs made at the break, their plight only got worse.
Paul scored six quick points on two free throws, a driving layup and a running floater, then Stojakovic hit two jumpers, the second for his fourth 3 of the game, giving New Orleans an 80-58 lead.
Peterson then got involved with two 3s and jumper, and the Hornets, who shot 64 percent through three quarters, led 90-66 after West scored while backing in on Bass.
Bass, a force inside during this game, responded with nine points during the remainder of the period, making it 99-79 heading into the final period.
Early in the fourth, Paul scored six quick points on a runner in the lane, an off-balance floater off the glass and a pull-up jumper, putting the Hornets in the clear.
When asked if there was a way for Dallas to stop him, Paul replied, “I’m sure there is, but to me, I hope not.”
“One thing I’ve learned through this season and watching these games is that you have to be aggressive,” Paul continued. “If I just sit back and let them trap me, then they succeed in what they had to do. I know I have to pick my spots when I get the ball and let other guys go, but at the same time I have to be aggressive and attack and that’s what we did.”
The Hornets scored 17 fast-break points in the first half, when they shot 62 percent. … Paul had a double-double by halftime with 12 points and 10 assists. … New Orleans finished with a 29-13 edge in fast-break points. … The Hornets also set team single-game playoff records for first-half points, total points and 3-pointers made.