NEW ORLEANS — Thursday night was supposed to be about Chris Paul’s return to New Orleans for the first time since being traded in December.
Turns out it was more about a scrappy home team.
The Hornets held off Paul’s Clippers 97-90, overcoming a 13-point deficit to pick up just their 12th win of the season.
Guard Jarrett Jack out-dueled Paul, scoring 17 points to Paul’s 16, matching the Clippers guard with nine assists and two steals.
In the final six minutes, New Orleans (12-35) held on for dear life, maintaining a lead of no more than six points.
The Hornets did it without Jason Smith, who was ejected with 4:06 to play for a Flagrant-2 after belting Blake Griffin to the floor.
That only served to ignite the crowd.
Los Angeles pulled to within 93-90 on a Griffin free throw.
It nearly got closer – Chris Kaman turned the ball over trying to pass to guard Jarrett Jack. But the Clippers’ Randy Foye missed a 3-pointer and Kaman atoned with a rebound.
L.A. (26-21) fouled Marco Belinelli, who made both free throws with 14 seconds to go and New Orleans had sealed its win.
New Orleans won despite taking 31 fewer shots than Los Angeles and losing the offensive board battle 22-6 to the Clippers.
The Hornets were aided by holding L.A. to 38.9 percent shooting and hitting on 27 of 34 free throws in a game that featured 52 fouls, 58 foul shots and an ejection.
For the first six minutes of the third quarter, it appeared the Hornets were going to go down softly, allowing Paul to reign in his return to the palace he filled so many times in the previous six seasons.
But then the Hornets got on a roll and the Clippers got off one.
New Orleans went on a 21-6 run, taking its first lead of the game on Jacks’ 10-footer with 9:58 to play in the fourth quarter.
That set up one more nerve-testing finish for the Hornets this season.
Kaman finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, Smith added 17 points and eight rebounds and Belinelli had 15 points.
Griffin led all scorers with 21 points and had 11 rebounds.