NEW ORLEANS - Chris Paul’s surgical drive past the San Antonio defense ended with a high, razzle-dazzle dribble and a soft, floating shot off the glass as a packed crowd broke into a thunderous frenzy.
“These are some of the best moments, I think, of my life that we’re experiencing right now,” Paul said. “We’re just riding a wave right now.”
It’s a wave that wiped out the Dallas Mavericks and is now crashing hard on the defending champion Spurs.
Paul had 30 points and 12 assists, leading the New Orleans Hornets to a 102-84 victory Monday night and a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven, second-round series.
Peja Stojakovic made five 3-pointers and scored 25 points for the Hornets, who’ve won both games by wide margins in becoming the first team to put San Antonio in an 0-2 playoff hole since 2001, when the Spurs were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference finals.
“We’re definitely a little shocked,” Spurs forward Kurt Thomas said. “You can’t take anything away from them. They are playing extremely well. If one person’s not going, someone else is stepping up.”
Game 3 is Thursday in San Antonio.
After allowing David West to score a career playoff-high 30 points in the series opener, the Spurs held the All-Star power forward to 10 points on 2-of-11 shooting. But West remained active under the basket with 10 rebounds.
“We’re trying to make sure our defense is where we want to start. We don’t worry about what we’re doing on the offensive end,” West said. “We stuck to what we do.”
Tyson Chandler had 11 rebounds and all of his five points, including an alley-oop dunk of Paul’s lob, during a key stretch midway through the fourth quarter when the Hornets prevented San Antonio from getting within single digits.
Tim Duncan led San Antonio with 18 points and eight rebounds, far better than his miserable Game 1, when he tied a career playoff low with five points and three rebounds. But by the final minutes, Duncan was on the bench, resting his cheek on his hand with a dejected 100-yard stare.
Manu Ginobili had 13 points for the Spurs and Tony Parker, guarded mostly by Paul, was limited to 11 and had two shots blocked by Chandler. Brent Barry added 14, some of it when the game was out of reach in the fourth quarter.
The Spurs continued to settle for 3-pointers, going 8-of-27 from that distance and finishing at 42.5 percent shooting overall. The Hornets shot 48 percent.
Duncan had seven points in the first eight minutes, luring Chandler into two early fouls and tying the score at 17 on a follow shot as he was fouled by Chandler’s replacement, Melvin Ely.
Kurt Thomas, who scored only two points in Game 1, also had seven in the first quarter.
Ginobili scored six points during an 8-0 run that put the Spurs up 29-22 early in the second quarter. New Orleans hit back with a 9-2 run that included Jannero Pargo’s two jumpers and rookie Julian Wright’s 3, which tied the game at 31.
The Hornets, however, opened the second half with a 10-0 run that included 3s by Stojakovic and Morris Peterson, who scored 12 points. Stojakovic’s driving floater capped it, giving New Orleans a 52-43 lead.
With Paul spearheading an up-tempo attack, New Orleans kept the pressure on throughout a 36-point third quarter. Paul used heady ball-handling to goad the Spurs into fouls, putting them over the limit with 4:06 left in the period. Meanwhile, Paul and Stojakovic each added another 3, the second putting New Orleans up 70-56.
As the quarter ended, Paul’s high dribble on his crowd-pleasing, driving floater gave the Hornets a 78-61 lead heading into the final period.
Then the Hornets, who won Game 1 by 19, used a 10-0 run that included one of Stojakovic’s 3s and another driving layup by Paul through traffic to go up 95-76 with just over three minutes left, leading both coaches to go with reserve lineups soon after.
“We’ve got a young bunch of guys that are very, very hungry and they’re playing right now for respect more than anything ... because there’s not a lot of people out there who feel we have a real good shot of winning this series.”
That may not be the case for long.
Notes: Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker and actor Isaiah Washington were in the audience, as well as former LSU defensive lineman and Kansas City Chiefs top draft choice Glenn Dorsey ... Attendance was 17,927, the Hornets’ 11th straight sellout. ... The Hornets have never won a second-round series. They are 0-4 in the second round of the playoffs.
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