Paul Returns, But Hornets Lose to Pistons
Detroit 96, New Orleans/Oklahoma City 86
OKLAHOMA CITY, Jan. 10 (Ticker) -- Richard Hamilton and the Detroit Pistons were determined to avoid losing back-to-back games for the first time this season.
Hamilton scored 30 points to lead the Pistons to a 96-86 victory over the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets, who unexpectedly had star rookie point guard Chris Paul back in their lineup.
Detroit (27-5) held just a 66-64 edge before embarking on an 8-0 burst to end the third quarter, which Carlos Arroyo capped with a banked 3-pointer at the buzzer.
"We tried to get Carlos on the floor a lot more with Rip (Hamilton)," Pistons coach Flip Saunders said. "He got a lot of guys involved and overall did a great job for us, even though he fouled out."
The Pistons' edge was 80-75 when Arroyo picked up his sixth foul on a drive by Speedy Claxton with 7:43 remaining. Enraged at the call, Arroyo bumped official Rodney Mott, and the guard likely will be suspended in the coming days.
"I was walking towards him as he was walking to midcourt," Arroyo said of the bump. "It wasn't my intention. I just wanted to let him know how much of a (garbage) call it was."
New Orleans/Oklahoma City pulled within 80-79 with 6:20 remaining on a pair of free throws by Paul, who was expected to miss two weeks with a sprained thumb ligament suffered Friday against Portland but sat out just one game.
"If I felt I had to be cautious, I wouldn't have played at all," said Paul, who played with a rubber soft cast on his injured thumb. "I was able to come out and hit my first couple of shots, and I got a lot of confidence going and didn't even think about my thumb being hurt."
But Hamilton sank two free throws with 6:10 to play, triggering a key run. After Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace each split two free throws, Billups nailed a baseline jumper and 3-pointer before Rasheed Wallace made it 92-79 with a shot from the arc with 3:39 remaining, taking the drama out of the contest.
"After the second half started, we locked down and were a lot better defensively," Saunders said. "We didn't lose our agressiveness, then we came down and scored on three straight possessions to take the game by the throat and control it."
David West scored 20 points, Claxton added 18 off the bench and Paul 13 for the Hornets, who have lost consecutive contests after a season-high three-game winning streak.
Hamilton made 12-of-21 shots and 6-of-6 free throws in his fifth 30-point game thsi season.
"I just wanted to be aggressive," Hamilton said. "Coach called a lot of plays for me, allowed me to move and cut and make plays, not only for me but for my teammates."
Billups was happy his team was able to pull out the win at the raucous Ford Center.
"This is a tough place to play. They believe they can beat anyone in this building," Billups said. "I think coach (Byron) Scott has them playing well right now, but I think we did a good job of keeping our composure and not get caught up in the college-like atmosphere. We got good minutes out of Arroyo and Antonio McDyess to pull it out."