Chris Paul raced down the court, beating most of the Dallas Mavericks. He put on the brakes with a jump stop in the lane and floated up a jumper that was supposed to get the New Orleans Hornets within a few baskets of the lead.
The ball went in all right. And then it came out.
Things sure were different now that he and the Hornets were on the road — and the Mavs were at home.
Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavericks finally made the Hornets look like playoff novices, pestering Paul and David West to go a combined 6-for-30 well into the fourth quarter on the way to a 97-87 victory in Game 3 that puts Dallas right back into this series.
Nowitzki had 32 points, 19 rebounds and six assists to pull the Mavs within 2-1. Game 4 is Sunday in Dallas, where the Hornets haven’t won since January 1998.
Paul was supposed to change that, the way he’s changed everything else this series, becoming the first player ever to have at least 30 points and 10 assists in his first two playoff games. But with Jason Terry covering him instead of Jason Kidd, he never came close to making it three straight, finishing with 16 points on 4-of-18 shooting. He still had 10 assists.
West, a fellow All-Star, was 3-of-16 through three quarters. He wound up 6-of-20, scoring 14 points. His late surge helped New Orleans cut a 17-point deficit to 90-83 with 2 minutes left.
New Orleans’ only consistent scorer was Jannero Pargo, who had 30 points, his most of the season and most ever in a playoff game.
Terry replaced Jerry Stackhouse in the starting lineup and responded with 22 points, including a 3-pointer with 1:39 left.
He had six assists but his biggest contribution was his defense on Paul. The way he kept cutting off Paul’s first step early, the speedster seemed to lose his will to drive the lane, looking content running the offense from the 3-point line.
The Mavericks said they would be better simply by being home and they were right. They led by 11 points in the first quarter and were up by seven at halftime. Then came a third quarter that might get NBA conspiracy theorists going.
Dallas took 22 free throws in the period, compared to just seven for New Orleans. Yes, the Mavericks were going to the rim a lot more aggressively. They also were aided by getting into the bonus just 3:17 into the quarter.
Dallas was up 62-54 when Nowitzki was conked from behind by Tyson Chandler, then run into by Pargo. He was sprawled on the court, the crowd silenced. But he got up and hit four straight free throws, then a jumper.
Josh Howard scored 18 points for Dallas, but was only 5-of-16. His performance drew extra scrutiny because hours before tipoff he went on local radio and admitted to using marijuana in the offseason.
Kidd had eight points, 11 rebounds and five assists.
Peja Stojakovic had 13 points and 10 rebounds for New Orleans, which shot just 38 percent.
Dallas fans heard for days that they could make a difference for their team, and it sure looked like it at the start. Pumped up by the pregame pyrotechnics, the crowd remained loud as the Mavs went on an early 10-0 run, leading by 11 after just a few minutes. Then the buzz wore off and the Hornets got back into it. A 12-2 run gave them the lead midway through the second quarter.
Then it was Dallas’ turn. Kidd got things rolling with a long jumper and Devean George added some rare offense during an 11-2 spurt that left the Mavericks ahead 47-40 at halftime.
Notes: Dallas won for only the third time in its last 13 playoff games. ... Paul missed shots at the end of the first two quarters, then couldn’t get one off at the end of the third, with a bump by Kidd helping prevent it. ... Pargo’s first miss came with 3:21 left in the third quarter. His second miss came a half-minute later. ... Mavs coach Avery Johnson was tightlipped about lineup changes before the game, joking that Juwan Howard would be at point guard. Told about it, Howard grinned and bragged about his point-forward skills. ... The night after Van Halen played the arena, the Mavs debuted a new music video spoof of “Jump,” with Kidd in the role of lead singer David Lee Roth.