Clippers’ Paul in control in 105-91 win over Hornets

Associated Press photo by ERIC GAY -- Hornets guard Eric Gordon shoots a free throw during a Jan. 23 game against the Spurs.
Associated Press photo by ERIC GAY -- Hornets guard Eric Gordon shoots a free throw during a Jan. 23 game against the Spurs.

NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Hornets stayed on the Los Angeles Clippers’ heels for much of the game, but Chris Paul stayed in control.

With Paul orchestrating, the Clippers pulled away in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Hornets 26-14 on their way to a 105-91 victory Wednesday at New Orleans Arena.

The loss ended a three-game winning streak by the Hornets (25-47) with a game coming up Friday against the Miami Heat, whose 27-game winning streak ended Wednesday night at the Chicago Bulls.

“I thought we forgot about how we won the past three games: defending, moving the ball, and playing with a level of force that’s necessary to compete,” coach Monty Williams said. “I thought once the fourth quarter started, they had control of the game.”

The Clippers (49-23) won for the third time in four games, the victory coming after a tough overtime loss Tuesday in Dallas.

Paul had 16 points and nine assists but, keeping his hand on the throttle, managed the game and kept his teammates involved. Los Angeles was led by Blake Griffin with 19 points and 11 rebounds, but 10 Clippers scored.

“I thought our bench was tremendous,” Paul said. “We missed some shots in Dallas we usually make. (Against the Hornets) we were able to make those shots. We had some good execution, and we were able to spread the floor a little bit.”

That enabled Paul to work his magic and often get open shots for teammates. Much of the damage was done on 13-of-29 (44.8 percent) 3-point shooting and 24-of-28 free-throw shooting.

And after the Hornets had outrebounded by wide margins three consecutive teams currently in playoff spots, the Clippers battled even with them, 35-35.

Guard Eric Gordon scored 24 points, mostly on drives to the basket, to lead the Hornets, and rookie Anthony Davis, with his college coach, John Calipari, sitting courtside, had 19 points and nine rebounds.

Outscoring the Hornets 12-4 in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, the Clippers built a 91-81 lead. It reached 98-85 at 4:27. Davis had two lobs, and Gordon two free throws, and New Orleans cut it to 99-91 at 2:36.

However, a minute later, Paul split two defenders, leaped high and hit a floater over Davis to get it back to 10.

The Clippers were sailing along at 61-50 two minutes into the third quarter.

However, Gordon drove hard and got two free throws. Davis then factored in three consecutive baskets, assisting on a layup by Al-Farouq Aminu and hitting back-to-back 19-foot jumpers.

Later, Darius Miller sank a 3-pointer, then Davis hit a 22-footer to get the Hornets to 70-69. However, Griffin scored on a putback, and Caron Butler made a three-point play on the break after Gordon drove and got contact but no call. Now it was 75-69 at the 2:45 mark.

The Hornets closed to one twice, and the quarter ended with Los Angeles holding on 79-77.

The end of the second quarter, however, proved key. The Hornets were battling toe-to-toe with the Clippers, tied at 47 with 1:09 left before halftime after Davis dunked a lob from Al-Farouq Aminu on the break.

However, the Clippers, behind Paul, took off from there. With the Hornets’ attention on trying to contain him, he spotted Caron Butler for a 3-pointer with 43.9 seconds showing. After Aminu made one of two free throws, Butler hit another 3-pointer, with Billups getting the assist with seven seconds left.

The Hornets lost focus, and Paul stole the ball and passed to Billups, who sank a 3-pointer off glass with 0.1 seconds left. Just like that, it was 56-48 at halftime. Los Angeles made its last eight shots, with five of them 3-pointers.

“You have a chance to be down by two, maybe three, and we go down by eight,” Williams said. “But it was the way we went down. We turned the ball over. They knocked down a couple of threes, and we just feel like we lost the momentum.”

While the Clippers were highly effective from the 3-point line, the Hornets shot just 4-of-14 for the game.

Point guard Greivis Vasquez, his left ankle apparently still ailing, was not able to penetrate the lane. He did not score and had four assists in 27 minutes, 50 seconds. Backup Brian Roberts, one game after getting a Hornets season-high 18 assists, had 10 points and three assists.

Note

Calipari was in town on a recruiting trip, but didn’t want to miss the opportunity to see his former players. Along with Davis and Miller of last year’s Kentucky championship team, Clippers backup point guard Eric Bledsoe played for the Wildcats three years ago.