Fri. Final: Hornets 95, Bucks 86
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Chris Paul skidded through a slick spot and hit the deck hard early in the third quarter. He stayed down for a few seconds, worried he might have hurt his ribs.
Fortunately -- for New Orleans, anyway -- Paul was wearing a pad that absorbed most of the impact. So he got back up to score 22 of his 30 points the rest of the way as the Hornets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 95-86 on Friday night.
"I was trying to push the tempo," said Paul, who had icepacks on both knees and an elbow after the game. "That hurt."
David West scored 21 and Rasual Butler hit a pair of key 3-pointers down the stretch for the Hornets, who have won nine of their last 10 games.
"Right now, we're making shots," Paul said. "And as long as we continue to do that, we'll be tough to beat."
Richard Jefferson scored 27 for Milwaukee, which has lost five of its last six.
It's a critical stretch for the Bucks, who came into Friday's game clinging to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference despite a season filled with injuries. Milwaukee hosts contenders Boston, Orlando and Portland in the next eight days.
"If we're really going to hit a stride where we are really playing our best basketball -- with the way our team is right now -- we need four, five, or six guys playing well on a given night," Bucks coach Scott Skiles said. "Two guys is not good enough. We are probably not going to win. We need multiple players playing well on both ends of the floor."
Milwaukee didn't have a defensive answer for Paul, who was 9-for-15 from the field and 12-for-12 from the free throw line -- while Milwaukee shot only seven free throws as a team. Paul also had nine assists and six rebounds.
Paul said he knows his limitations as a scorer, and works hard to find what works best for him.
"I'm not the greatest long-distance shooter -- I know that," Paul said. "But I know if I get around that free throw line area, a lot of times you've just got to hope I miss."
West said the Bucks were making a tactical mistake in the way they defended Paul, extending their perimeter players too far.
"He was just being aggressive," West said. "They were trying to pick him up a little too high. You can't give him that much floor to work with. He was able to find some seams."
But Paul spoke highly of the Bucks, who lost by a point in New Orleans last month and proved tough to shake again on Friday.
"I really like the way they play," Paul said. "No matter what, they play hard, and they play together."
But it wasn't enough.
Jefferson was 11-for-20 from the field, shaking off his 3-for-16 shooting performance in Tuesday's disappointing home loss to New York. But Milwaukee's other primary scorers for the moment, Charlie Villanueva and Ramon Sessions, combined to go 6-for-20 from the field.
New Orleans also outrebounded Milwaukee 46-30.
Still, the Bucks put together a 10-2 run to tie it at 73 on Luke Ridnour's 3-pointer with 7:27 left in the game.
"We just got a little lackadaisical and gave up a couple of wide open shots," Hornets coach Byron Scott said. "Guys got back and weren't really (stopping) on defense. I just didn't like their body language so I had to call a timeout and ask them, 'Do you know what you're doing?' to get us back on track.
New Orleans responded with a 7-0 run that included a pull-up jumper in the lane by Paul, a 3-pointer by Butler and a driving layup by James Posey on a sharp pass from Paul.
New Orleans had trouble putting it away, and led by only five after Villanueva put back his own miss with 2:22 left in the game. But Butler answered with another 3-pointer, putting New Orleans ahead 87-79 with 1:59 remaining.
Paul clinched it by hitting a jumper at the 1:30 mark, putting New Orleans ahead 89-81.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)