Three Clutch Free-Throws for Paul Help Hornets Pull Win Over Spurs

NEW ORLEANS – Chris Paul scored 26 points, hitting three clutch free throws with 7.1 seconds left, and the depleted New Orleans Hornets pulled out a 90-86 victory over the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday night.David West had 23 points, going 11-of-11 on free throws, and grabbed 16 rebounds. The Hornets were 32-of-33 from the foul line overall, making their last 31, to compensate for 37.5 percent shooting.Tony Parker had 20 points for San Antonio. Tim Duncan had 19 points and 15 rebounds and Manu Ginobili added 17 points.New Orleans appeared to have the game wrapped up when Rasual Butler’s free throws gave the Hornets an 87-80 lead with 29.6 seconds to go. Then Ginobili hit a quick 3, Butler turned the ball over trying to catch an inbound pass, and Michael Finley hit another 3 to pull the Spurs to 87-86 with 17.8 seconds to go.Paul was the difference in the end, taking an inbound pass in the back court, splitting Finley and Parker on the dribble, then alertly heaving up a shot from well behind the 3-point line as he was fouled by Ginobili.The Spurs argued vehemently that Paul was fouled before the shot. The officials gathered to discuss it, but ultimately put Paul on the line. Paul didn’t miss, and San Antonio was left with too little time to answer again.The Hornets came into the game missing three key players because of injuries to center Tyson Chandler (left ankle) and Peja Stojakovic (back) and the one-game suspension of primary reserve James Posey, who was punished for throwing a ball at the feet of a referee during a loss in New York on Friday night.Hornets coach Byron Scott responded by giving more playing time to backup point guard Antonio Daniels, who sometimes joined Paul in the back court. Daniels wound up with 10 points in 21 minutes.The victory lifted New Orleans (45-27) into a tie for sixth with Utah in the Western Conference playoff race. The Spurs (48-25), which lost for the first time in four games, remained in second, but their lead over Denver was trimmed to half a game.The Spurs led 47-43 at halftime and went up by six after Duncan’s driving layup early in third quarter, but wound up shooting only 26.3 percent (5-of-19) during the period as the lead slowly slipped away.The Hornets made 22 of 23 free throws through the opening three periods, including 7-of-7 during a 9-0 run to close out the third quarter. The spurt gave New Orleans, which entered the game with a 36-3 record when leading after three periods, a 68-63 lead heading into the fourth quarter.The Hornets held on in large part because of Paul’s 12 points in the final 12 minutes. Twice in the period, he drew fouls on 3-point attempts, making every free throw. He also forced Parker to turn the ball over out of bounds on a fast break and poked what looked like a certain defensive rebound away from Duncan.His ball-handling in traffic was spectacular as usual, allowing him to set up his teammates. He finished with nine assists, including a big one on West’s jumper with 39 seconds to go.