NEW ORLEANS — Tom Benson stopped near the visiting team tunnel Wednesday night and watched as Chris Paul took time to deliver not just his jersey, but his CP3 sneakers to fans shouting his name.
And then he tapped the Clippers’ point guard on the shoulder, exchanging pleasantries with the All-Star.
For a brief minute, it was a what-could-have-been moment.
Instead, the former New Orleans star led his Clippers past Benson’s Hornets 105-91, Los Angeles’ first win in the Crescent City since January 2007.
Paul finished with 16 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals.
But Paul, ever the diplomat, had only kind words about his former team.
“They play hard (and) they’re in every game that they play every night,” Paul said. “They execute and they’re going to be fine with those young fells. Anthony Davis had a great game and Greivis Vasquez will lead them.”
Benson never got a chance to talk Paul into staying in New Orleans. He was traded to the Clippers in December 2011. Benson bought the team in the spring of 2012.
The new owner, however, at least has something going in the 2012 No. 1 overall pick. Davis had 19 points and nine rebounds, including a 5-for-5, 10-point performance in the third quarter.
Eric Gordon led all scorers with 24 points.
New Orleans (25-47) was in the game through three quarters. In the fourth, however, the Clippers were just too much, too deep and too talented for the Hornets.
A 14-4 run after a Ryan Anderson tip-in in the opening minute put the game out of reach.
Los Angeles (49-23) used three 3-pointers and eight second-chance points to bully the Hornets in the final 12 minutes.
“I thought once the fourth quarter started, they had control of the game,” Hornets coach Monty Williams said. “(They outscored us) 26-14 in points, but just the feel of the fourth quarter was different.”
New Orleans nearly won every category that matters. It shot 49.3 percent to Los Angeles’ 46.6 percent. The Hornets had 12 more points in the paint than the Clippers. And they had as many rebounds as did Los Angeles.
But it was the 3-pointers that made the difference.
Los Angeles was 13 of 29 from long range while New Orleans hit only four treys. For only the fifth time this season, Anderson failed to convert a 3-pointer.
“We knew they had shooters to go along with their inside play,” said Hornets guard Brian Roberts, who led the bench with 10 points. “We had a few breakdowns defensively that got them open looks and got them rolling.”
And now the Hornets must contend with Miami on Friday night, two days after the Heat’s 27-game winning streak was snapped.
To have a chance in that game, New Orleans will have to get back to what helped it win the three games prior to Wednesday night and what wasn’t there against Los Angeles.
“I thought for the most part we forgot a bit about how we won these past three games – defending, moving the ball and playing with a level of force that’s necessary to have a chance to compete,” Williams said.