Chris Paul had 33 points, 14 assists and seven rebounds, and the New Orleans Hornets pulled away down the stretch, stunning the two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers with a 109-100 victory in their playoff opener Sunday.
Carl Landry scored 17 points and Jarrett Jack added 15 for the seventh-seeded Hornets, who overcame Los Angeles' major size advantage with a phenomenal game from Paul. The star playmaker scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, leading a late 8-0 run.
Kobe Bryant scored 34 points for the Lakers, who opened the postseason with the same halfhearted effort that comprised much of their regular season after three straight exhausting trips to the NBA finals.
Game 2 is Wednesday at Staples Center.
A few hours after eighth-seeded Memphis produced a series-opening surprise in San Antonio, Paul and the Hornets put another intriguing wrinkle in the NBA postseason.
Los Angeles' 7-foot starters, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, were widely expected to be an awful matchup for smallish New Orleans, but Paul led an impressive offensive game plan that minimized the big men's impact while emphasizing tough-to-defend pick-and-roll plays. Los Angeles struggled to get the ball down low on offense, too often settling for jumpers.
Ron Artest had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Lakers, who swept the four-game regular-season series with New Orleans. They had won their last six playoff series openers since Houston beat them in the Western Conference semifinals in 2009 on Los Angeles' way to Bryant's fourth championship.
Los Angeles never grabbed a second-half lead despite another dynamite game from Bryant. Gasol struggled to eight points — just two more than his season low — on 2-for-9 shooting with just six rebounds.
Artest's free throws pulled Los Angeles within four with 3 minutes left, but Paul led the Hornets to points on four consecutive possessions, setting off a celebration confined entirely to the Hornets' bench. The Staples Center crowd pointedly heckled Gasol in the final minutes, while other fans booed as they streamed out of the building.
Lamar Odom had 10 points and one rebound in 31 minutes of play, while Bynum contributed 13 points and nine rebounds but wasn't his usual defensive force in his first game back from a hyperextended right knee.
The playoff pressure of Staples Center clearly didn't bother the Hornets, who lost leading scorer David West to a knee injury last month. Coach Monty Williams designed an impressive approach for his playoff debut along with Emeka Okafor, Marco Belinelli and Jack.
Aaron Gray had 12 points for New Orleans, but was helped off the court by teammates with 1:07 to play after Gasol accidentally stepped on his right foot while fighting for a rebound. Williams said Gray has a mildly sprained ankle.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson showed up for what's likely his final playoff run wearing his championship ring from the 1973 New York Knicks, saying he plans to wear a different championship ring to every playoff game. But Jackson's fears about his team's "so-so" readinesss for the postseason proved prescient in another poor Lakers performance in a big game.
Bryant bruised his neck when he tumbled into the front row after hitting a jumper in the final minute of the first half, spending the last 10 seconds facedown in pain while Ron Artest hit a 43-foot jumper at the buzzer. Bryant got up slowly and missed halftime warmups, but returned without missing a beat.
NOTES: G Trey Johnson, recalled from the D-League by the Lakers just five days earlier, played six minutes in the second quarter. Johnson was with the Lakers in training camp, and he suited up for Toronto earlier this season. ... Bryant collided with the courtside chair next to Tim Leiweke, the chief executive of sports conglomerate AEG. ... Fans near courtside included Jack Black, Seal, will.i.am, former Arizona forward Derrick Williams and Brewers owner Mark Attanasio.