NEW ORLEANS — The Hornets followed a familiar script in their penultimate home game of the season, letting a double-digit fourth-quarter lead fade down the stretch and losing.
New Orleans lost to the Clippers 96-93, allowing a 10-point lead to evaporate in front of more than 15,000 fans.
And fans had to watch as former Hornet Chris Paul led Los Angeles’ comeback.
He scored 10 fourth-quarter points on his way to 17 for the game. He also had 14 assists and seven rebounds.
But the Hornets can’t blame anyone but themselves.
New Orleans (27-53) made only 17 of 32 free throws and converted only 6 of 19 3-point attempts, allowing Los Angeles that ability to stick around. Thirty-nine fourth-quarter points by Los Angeles didn’t help.
“You can look at two things, our free throws and the fourth quarter,” Hornets guard Roger Mason Jr. said. “We gave up thirty-nine points. We played great defense throughout the game, but when you give up that many points [in the fourth] and you don’t hit your free throws, you don’t give yourself a chance to win.”
It didn’t help that the Hornets were short-handed. Greivis Vasquez (right ankle sprain), Anthony Davis (left knee sprain) and Lance Thomas (foot) all sat out.
For a time, that was positive. The Hornets pushed the Clippers (53-26) with a small lineup, which helped them build their lead.
Brian Roberts, getting his second start in place of Vasquez, handily guided the team, pitching in 15 points, added 11 assists and picking up six rebounds. And guard Eric Gordon had 25 points, his third straight game with at least 20 points.
It wasn’t enough.
Los Angeles coach Vinny Del Negro re-inserted Paul back into the lineup with 8:50 to play in the game and that changed everything.
“At that time we were just trying to manage things with what was going to work out there,” Del Negro said. “We had no real energy and not real rhythm. Sometimes you have to roll the dice and it worked this time.”
The Clippers went on a 14-6 run that closed the Hornets’ lead to just two points.
From there, the Clippers used a 3-pointer from Jamal Crawford to cut New Orleans’ lead to 85-84. Los Angeles’ Matt Barnes hit two free throws and the Hornets never led again.
Paul hit a 16-foot step-back jumper with 52 seconds to play to give the Clippers an 88-85 led and New Orleans never really recovered. He made six consecutive free throws to close out the game, giving Los Angeles the breathing room it needed to stay ahead as Ryan Anderson and Roberts both hit 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds to keep the game in question.
New Orleans will close out its home schedule on Sunday at home against Dallas, the last time the franchise will play as the Hornets ever at the New Orleans Arena.