Bradley Handwerger / WWLTV.com Sports Writer
-- Opinion --
NEW ORLEANS ― Jarrett Jack stood in the bowels of the New Orleans Arena nearly 10 minutes after midnight Sunday, dressed in a slick silver suit with a red power tie.
He was receiving congratulations from a few fans, even getting on the phone for one of them and saying hello to the person on the other end.
About 40 minutes earlier, however, he was scoring the final five points, including the game-winning 6-footer on an assist from Chris Paul, in the Hornets’ 93-88 Game 4 win over the Lakers.
And to think, he wasn’t even supposed to be in the game.
“I didn’t tell anybody this but he was responsible for me being in the game,” Jack said. “He said put Jack in. I was just standing by waiting for the play (in the timeout huddle).”
That, in essence, is the brilliance of Paul, the Hornets’ maddening All-Star who at times is, wait for it, legendary, while other times he’s infuriatingly passive.
Sunday night, he was the former.
But he had help from his teammates and from a YouTube video assistant coach Mike Malone discovered and coach Monty Williams played Saturday in lieu of breaking down video of Game 3.
The Battle at Kruger National Park might be the next big hit on the Arena’s BuzzVision video boards.
It’s the ultimate underdog story:
Lions attack a small pack of buffaloes and pick off a calf. King of the jungle, right?
Wrong. A much larger pack of buffalo come into the scene, chasing off the mighty lions and saving the calf.
The Lakers are the lions, the Hornets are the buffaloes.
The moral of the story?
“Don’t give up,” Williams said. “You know, the calf lived.”
In Game 4, the pack of one – Paul – was finally joined by an aggressive and defensively brilliant Trevor Ariza, the paint-stuffing Emeka Okafor and the clutch-shooting Jack.
“That’s how it goes with us,” Jack said. “We believe in it and that’s how we’ve got to be successful. It just goes to show if you fight and believe in what they preach, you can beat anybody.”
Yet, while the no-names – as in Chris Paul and the No Names – played a part in the win – Ariza finished with 19 points and Carl Landry had 16 – it was Paul’s brilliance that set Sunday’s win apart.
His 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds became his second-ever playoff triple-double and just the fourth in franchise history and likely the first to come by someone with a laundry list of injuries that included a bum left thumb, a surgically repaired knee and a bad hip.
Like Game 1, also a Hornets win, Paul took over in the second half. That’s when he was at his play-making best, scoring 23 points grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out six assists, none more important that his final one of the night to his good friend Jack.
“This is where players are made,” Paul said. “I just looked at it as a great opportunity for us as a team to forget about the rest of the season and try to seize the moment.”
Now the Hornets have made the one series no one thought would go more than four games a testament to being an underdog thanks to one of the smallest players on the court.
“I play with a chip on my shoulder regardless day in and day out,” Paul said. “I’m not trying to make a statement.”
On Sunday night, Paul’s non-statement statement was made.
“Chris Paul had one of the better performances that I have seen in the playoffs,” Williams said.
Because of it, the Hornets are tied 2-2 with the two-time defending champion Lakers in a best-of-seven series.
The Hornets coach only hopes his point guard has at least two more of these left in him this series.
You get the feeling, at least for one night, that Paul just might.