Chris Paul's inner child surfaced when he talked about coming over to Staples Center on Saturday night to get some shots in and then Sunday morning to absorb the playoff vibe.
"I actually came over to the game early and I walked from the hotel here," Paul said. "It felt like an AAU game. But it's serious."
And if it wasn't truly serious, well, it is now.
The Lakers-Hornets playoff series moved from afterthought territory to snapping-to-attention time after New Orleans defeated the Lakers, 109-100, in Game 1 on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.
Paul was the chief architect of the Hornets' upset, scoring 17 points in a dazzling fourth quarter. He came within three rebounds of a triple-double, finishing with 33 points (going 11 for 18 from the field), 14 assists and seven rebounds.
"It just felt good tonight," Paul said. "The guys will tell you I struggled all season long to try to figure out when to pick my spots. But it's the playoffs. It's the playoffs, man. It's another energy, a whole 'nother thing."
Said Hornets Coach Monty Williams: "When he's fresh, nobody can stay in front of him. But the pick and roll is what he does. Sometimes I tend to mess with the game by trying to run too many 'basketball sets' when sometimes I just need to give him the ball and let him go to work.
"He and I, we were on the same page tonight as far as calling plays. There were a few times he called a play and it was the same play I had in my head, a different variation of our pick and roll."
Williams said that after Paul committed a turnover — a bad pass in the final seconds of the first quarter — the point guard came back to the bench and apologized, saying, "My bad."
"Listen, I don't want to hear that. We have to attack and don't worry about your mistakes," Williams said he told Paul. "Nobody expects us to do anything in this series. The last thing we need to do is worry about our mistakes."
Teammate Carl Landry talked about Paul's search to find the right balance this season.
"Sometimes Chris had games this year where he had single digits," said Landry, who had 17 points. "He was just aggressive tonight, fearless, man, just going out there and playing hard.
"And we needed that. There [were] times where I was like, 'Man, let me touch the rock, let me score.' But he was rolling. So if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Reserve big man Aaron Gray's strong showing — five for five from the field, 12 points — ended in considerable pain when he suffered an injured ankle near the end of the game. Williams described it as a mild sprain but Gray had to be helped off the floor and wasn't putting any weight on the foot.