DALLAS — David West and Chris Paul were on the bench, smiling as they watched thousands of fans headed to their cars. They’d already seen Jason Kidd lose his cool and get tossed, and saw police take away a ref-baiting loudmouth a few seats from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
They were soaking it all in because it might be their last glimpse of Dallas for a while.
West bounced back from a miserable Game 3 with a determined effort in Game 4, scoring 10 points in an early second half rally that sent the Hornets surging past the Mavericks 97-84 on Sunday night, giving them a 3-1 lead in the first-round series.
West had 24 points and nine rebounds, Paul had 16 points, eight assists and seven rebounds and the Hornets ended an 0-for-14 drought in Dallas that dated to January 1998. Now they’re headed to New Orleans, hoping to win Game 5 on Tuesday night and avoid coming back to Big D until next season. The Mavericks are on the brink of a second straight first-round exit.
“It’s a great feeling to be up 3-1, but it doesn’t mean too much right now,” Paul said. “It’s tough to close out a team, to get that fourth win. That’s what coach has been preaching to us. We feel pretty confident going back in front of our fans.”
Dirk Nowitzki had 22 points and 13 rebounds and Jason Terry scored 20 points, but they didn’t get much help. Josh Howard was 3-for-16 and Kidd had only three points, three assists and four rebounds before getting ejected with 7:16 left for a flagrant foul on Jannero Pargo. The exodus in the aisles came soon after, even before Hornets coach Byron Scott pulled his starters.
“At that point, we’d done close to what we needed to get the result we wanted,” West said.
The Mavs went from scoring 30 points in the first quarter to 14 in the second quarter, then 40 in the entire second half.
Dallas’ meltdown — in this game, in this series and since being up 2-0 on Miami in the finals two years ago — might end up costing coach Avery Johnson his job. Nowitzki already was using the past tense in his postgame comments, saying they just didn’t have enough offense in the series.
“I don’t really have an answer for it,” said Nowitzki, exhaling loudly and running a hand through his hair in frustration. “All season long, we’ve lost leads way too quick. … Everybody has to be in attack mode. You have to make shots to win in this league.”
New Orleans did, hitting 50 percent. Peja Stojakovic scored 19 points and Julian Wright added 11, including a tremendous dunk off a midcourt steal of Jerry Stackhouse, a play that emphasized the difference in the age and agility of these teams.
“I thought Julian was athletic enough to match up with Josh and Jerry,” Scott said. “He didn’t play like a rookie. He’s active, he runs the floor. He’s a pretty good player.”
Pargo also scored 11 and Morris Peterson had 10.
West was 10-of-21, but the most important part came at the start of the second half, when New Orleans turned a 48-44 halftime lead into a 64-51 advantage.
West made all four shots he took in that spurt and added a pair of free throws. All came against Erick Dampier, including a 1-hander that prompted an immediate timeout by Johnson and a huge chest bump from Paul. West never hit anything like that in Game 3, when he started 3-of-14 and finished 6-of-20.
The big guy was practically silent since then, stewing over his performance. Scott considered that a good thing.
“Everything was stirring up in him,” Scott said. “He wasn’t going to play the way he played in Game 3. We were banking on that. He was in an aggressive mind-set from the start and he came up big.”
Several Hornets said Saturday they thought they’d taken Dallas’ best shot in Game 3 and could handle it from here. It sure didn’t seem like it when the Mavericks came out taking turns going to the basket and getting out in transition. They didn’t take many jumpers, but hit most they did take, and were up 32-23 early in the second quarter. Then Johnson had to dip deeper into his bench and it all fell apart.
Even with Pargo running the offense instead of Paul, the Hornets went on a 15-2 run to regain the lead, with Wright’s big dunk coming in that spurt.
“I thought after the first quarter, everything we talked about worked,” Scott said. “Our running game got going and that’s why we won this game.”
Johnson went back to his starters, but they played the rest of the half as if they’d used up their allotment of time in the paint during the first quarter, settling for jumpers. The best evidence was their free throws — not a single one in the period. They shot just 16 for the game, after averaging 38.3 over the first three games.
“We just got kind of got stuck in the second quarter,” Johnson said. “They were more aggressive and we went to old habits and we paid for it.”