OKLAHOMA CITY -- Chris Paul stopped at his favorite restaurants, swung by his old house and got a warm reception when he got introduced in his latest visit to Oklahoma City.
Then came a noticeably less friendly reception from the town the New Orleans Hornets' temporarily called home after Hurricane Katrina.
Paul had 14 points and 13 assists and drove for a key layup in the final minute of the Hornets' 95-92 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night, pushing New Orleans above .500 for the first time this season.
At times, the crowd was none too happy about it.
"They did get on me. I didn't expect that. I heard a boo here and there," said Paul, who won Rookie of the Year after his debut season in Oklahoma City. "I was like, `Y'all are supposed to be my family.' I was here first."
A trip to the arena they called home for two seasons helped the Hornets improve their miserable road record to 4-13. New Orleans has won back-to-back road games for the first time this season and improved to 10-5 since Paul returned from an ankle injury that forced him to miss eight games.
"I love being here. It's always awkward, though, sitting on that bench but it's so good to see so many familiar faces and people that introduced me to the NBA," Paul said.
David West scored 19 points to lead New Orleans, which had all five starters reach double figures. Emeka Okafor had 15 points, Peja Stojakovic had 12 on 4-for-10 shooting from 3-point range and Devin Brown finished with 11.
Paul served as a facilitator for much of the night but maneuvered into the lane and rolled in a layup with 11.1 seconds left to put New Orleans up 95-92. Russell Westbrook missed an off-balance 3-pointer that would've tied it in the closing seconds, and James Posey then hit two free throws to provide the final margin.
"One thing about us is we have to give ourselves a chance. If we get to the fourth quarter and it's close, then we sort of know what to do," Paul said. "That's all we've got to do is give ourselves a chance."
A young Thunder team is still learning how to do that on a consistent basis.
"It's part of our growth and getting better is execution in the fourth quarter. We've won games some lately but that still doesn't mean that we have arrived and we're going to win every game that we play," Brooks said.
Neither team led by more than eight points in a close game that featured 18 lead changes and 12 ties. New Orleans held an 18-11 scoring edge in the fourth quarter, holding the Thunder to its lowest total in the final period all season.
"We've been getting better with our fourth-quarter defense. We've been in so many close games that we've had to really defend if we're going to be successful," Hornets coach Jeff Bower said. "It's getting better, but we've got a long way to go."
Darius Songaila put New Orleans ahead to stay with a pair of free throws that made it 89-87 with 6:02 remaining. The shot clock had run down far enough that one of the officials thought it had expired before being corrected by another who had called the foul on Serge Ibaka.
Posey collected a loose ball and turned it into a layup, then Paul followed it with a right-handed runner to push the lead to 93-88 with 3:03 left.
Durant cut into the deficit with a pair of free throws, and Westbrook brought Oklahoma City within one when he put back Durant's missed 3-pointer with 52 seconds to play.
Paul followed that with his driving layup, after West had rebounded his first attempt, and the Thunder couldn't come up with an open shot in their final possession.
New Orleans won its fourth in a row and moved to 17-16 on the season, gaining ground with a head-to-head meeting with the team that held what would be the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. It was also the 10th straight win for the Hornets against the Oklahoma City franchise -- including three in a row since the Thunder replaced them as tenants of the Ford Center.
"It's always fun to come here. I thought this year it wouldn't be as big of a deal, just because we played last year," Paul said. "But I could see myself five, 10 years from now, it's still going to be that same feeling."
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