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Hornets' Paul deals Bulls' playoff hopes big blow
The collapse came just as dramatically and almost as severely.
That made Monday night's result just as painful and the postgame locker room equally dejected.
Trying to overcome the emotional hangover of blowing an 18-point fourth-quarter lead in a horrible home loss to the 76ers on Friday, the Bulls played the aggressors for 31/2 quarters against Western Conference power New Orleans.
But when crunch time arrived, Chris Paul took over.
The transcendent—and relentless—talent made big play after big play as the Hornets overcame a nine-point fourth-quarter deficit to knock off the Bulls 108-97.
Paul scored 13 of his 37 points and tallied two of his 13 assists in the game-ending 24-4 Hornets run.
Coupled with the Hawks' road victory in Washington, the Bulls now sit 21/2 games outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture with 16 games remaining and are a season-worst 14 games under .500.
"Another frustrating game," interim coach Jim Boylan said. "We get on a slide in the fourth quarter. A couple of questionable shots lead to more questionable shots. You call time out and address that issue and try to play together. But the game got physical and we weren't able to take care of the basketball."
The Bulls tallied more turnovers (eight) than field goals (five) in the final quarter.
Leading 93-84 with 6 minutes 15 seconds remaining, the Bulls simply had no answer for Paul, who started his jaw-dropping barrage by somehow corralling a loose ball after his own bobble and making a 7-foot shot while falling to the ground.
Following a turnover by Ben Gordon, Bonzi Wells scored in one of the few Hornets plays not involving Paul. Larry Hughes then forced a shot early in the shot clock, and Paul blew past everybody for a layup.
Paul then stole Hughes' pass and dribbled the length of the floor to split two defenders and spin in a layup off the glass.
Gordon, who led the Bulls with 31 points, drained a 21-foot jumper for the Bulls' only field goal in the final seven minutes to make it 95-92. But after Wells and Gordon traded free throws, Paul drained a three-pointer with 2:57 left for a 96-96 tie.
Drew Gooden, otherwise solid with 23 points and 12 rebounds, committed a turnover and Paul converted it into an emphatic alley-oop dunk for Tyson Chandler to make it 98-96.
Wells, with 19 off the bench, later added a dunk off a Paul feed and, piling on now, Paul swished an 8-foot runner after a Gordon miss.
"He just took the game over single-handedly," Gordon said.
Paul's counterpart, Kirk Hinrich, went scoreless with six misses in 16 minutes of no impact. That forced Gordon into a primary ballhandling role, and the Bulls mostly went one-on-one down the stretch.
"We stopped doing the things we were doing when we were successful," Gordon said.
Near the final buzzer, Luol Deng rebounded a Thabo Sefolosha miss and attempted a meaningless layup. Chandler swatted it away hard, kind of like Paul did to the Bulls' dwindling playoff chances.
"He's one of the best," Boylan said. "Every time I watch him play, he does something similar. It's not just us he's picking on. He's doing it to the whole league."