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Hornets sneak past Celtics in heartfelt opener

BOSTON (AP) -- The pregame ceremony honoring Red Auerbach was
going to pump up the crowd. The Boston Celtics were going to be up
for this one, too.

Chris Paul knew all this beforehand. He also figured he'd have
to keep his New Orleans teammates from getting too excited if the
Hornets wanted to come out with a win.

"It was a very emotional night," Paul said, after the Hornets'
91-87 season-opening win Wednesday night in Boston.

Paul was born one year before Boston won its last title in 1986,
but last season's NBA rookie of the year was well aware of how much
Boston's fans adored the late Celtics icon.

"Red Auerbach, he's the man," Paul said. "Being point guard,
I had to make sure we stayed under control."

Paul had 20 points and 10 assists and helped the Hornets stave
off two comebacks after they took a 54-41 halftime lead. New
Orleans held on with the help of two big field goals from Peja
Stojakovic in the last two minutes.

Paul "got us back to a point where it was slipping away a
little bit and just took control of the game," Hornets coach Byron
Scott said.

The Celtics missed a chance to start the post-Auerbach era with
a win. Auerbach, who won nine titles as a coach and seven more in
the front office, died of a heart attack Saturday near his
Washington home at the age of 89.

"We wanted to win so bad," Boston's Paul Pierce said. "We
wanted to win for the fans. It was definitely emotional in my
play."

Pierce, coming off the best of his previous seasons, almost made
that happen with 29 points and 19 rebounds. But he missed 8 of his
15 free throws, including four in the fourth quarter. Wally
Szczerbiak added 21 points and Al Jefferson had 13.

"I thought we relied so heavily on Paul and guys stopped moving
the ball," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "And we just can't do
that."

Pierce played with a white headband with the number 2 on it,
symbolizing the number the Celtics had retired in Auerbach's honor.
All the Celtics had black shamrocks on their jerseys with the word
"RED" in green, which they plan to wear all season.

Auerbach, who had seen all 56 previous Celtics season openers,
had planned to attend.

In a pre-game video, fans saw Auerbach holding one of the 16
championship trophies the Celtics won during his tenure -- nine as a
coach. But they haven't won another since 1986. And they don't
appear to be close despite a recent influx of youth and
athleticism.

Rivers said the Celtics have to trust themselves to take open
shots and not depend on Pierce for scoring.

"I know guys, a lot of them haven't been in this position
before," Rivers said, "but that's going to be what's going to
make or break us down the stretch of games."

The stretch is exactly where the Hornets dominated.

Trailing 85-80, the Celtics cut the deficit to 85-84 with 2:31
left on a layup by Pierce and one free throw each by Szczerbiak and
Jefferson. But Stojakovic hit a driving layup with 1:34 remaining.

He followed with a 20-foot jumper before Pierce made one of two
free throws, cutting the lead to 89-85 with 37 seconds remaining.

"I want the ball in those situations," said Stojakovic, who
had 11 points in his first game since being obtained from Indiana
in the offseason. "I am still trying to figure out where to get my
shots."

David West added 18 points for the Hornets and newcomer Bobby
Jackson scored 14.

West's tip-in with 12 seconds remaining made it 91-85 to secure
the victory.

Paul, whose 10 assists came in the first half, scored the
Hornets' last 12 points of the third quarter as they took a 75-65
lead going into the fourth.

"In the second half he went from passing the ball to taking
control and he went to the basket because he saw the way we were
defending him," Boston's Ryan Gomes said.

He also saw the crowd cheering for the team Auerbach led for
more than five decades.

"We had to come and make the first punch," Paul said,
"because with all the adrenaline, had they jumped on us early, we
wouldn't have a chance."

Game notes
Referee Bill Spooner pulled his right hamstring with 9:14
left in the second quarter and didn't return, leaving Bennie Adams
and Bill Kennedy to handle the game. ... Several fans chastised the
Hornets for warming up during a halftime ceremony featuring former
Celtics Tommy Heinsohn, Jo Jo White and M.L. Carr reminiscing about
Auerbach. One shouted, "Stop shooting; show some respect." Said
another: "No wonder you don't have a city." The players then
stopped shooting until the discussion ended. ... Red Sox slugger
David Ortiz attended the game.