"Whoever was on me, I just knew I was going to try to drive, get contact and either get a good shot up or try to draw a foul," Paul said. "Pretty much put your head down and try to get to the rim."
Paul dribbled around a screen to lose Courtney Lee, then blew past Jarvis Hayes for a driving scoop as he was fouled with 7.6 seconds left, and New Orleans narrowly averted a stunning loss at home by beating the New Jersey Nets 103-99 on Friday night.
The Hornets had squandered a 15-point lead and trailed 99-98 before Paul capped an 11-point, 18-assist performance by putting New Orleans back up for good at 101-99.
New Jersey then lost its chance to come back again when Devin Harris was called for a charge on Devin Brown. David West iced it soon after with a pair of free throws to close out a 32-point, 10-rebound night for him. The Hornets, meanwhile, extended their winning streak to five games and won for the 12th time in 13 home games.
"Sometimes you got to win ugly," Paul said. "As long as you give us a chance toward the end of the game, we're going to make the right decisions."
The Hornets (18-16) may not be an elite team right now, but with veteran stars like Paul and West on the floor, they've shown the ability lately to pull out tight games. They overcame a seven-point deficit inside the last three minutes to beat Houston last Saturday, then held on in the final minutes of a pair of tough road victories at Utah and Oklahoma City during the past week to get above .500 for the first time all season.
"Momentum is part of the thing with winning," West said. "You get an opportunity to close games out, it's just something you've got to continue to carry over. ... We've got to continue to press and impose our will and our athleticism against other teams."
Okafor had 13 points and 13 rebounds for New Orleans, which has won 11 of its last 16 games. Darius Songaila added 10 points in a reserve role.
Now 30 games under .500 after their fourth straight loss, the young Nets (3-33) showed they still have to learn how to complete comebacks and hold on to late leads.
"It's always disappointing when players don't finish the game," Nets coach Kiki Vandeweghe said. "We're all disappointed, but [New Orleans] is a very good team. They played hard and they've won a lot at the end. We have nothing to be ashamed of. You have to give them credit for finishing well."
New Orleans appeared fully in command when Paul found Okafor for a transition dunk to make it 78-63 late in the third quarter, but Lee came back with his third 3-pointer of the period, sparking an 11-3 run that pulled New Jersey to 81-74 early in the fourth quarter. A few minutes later, Dooling's fourth 3 of the game pulled the Nets to 84-80.
West scored as he was fouled on the next possession, then scored again on a fast-break layup set up by Paul to make it 89-80, but New Jersey kept clawing back.
Lee's fifth 3 sparked an 8-0 run that made it 96-94. After James Posey hit two free throws, he was called for a foul during an inbound pass on the other end with 19 seconds left. New Jersey was given one foul shot, which Lee made, plus possession. Dooling then hit a driving layup to make it 98-97.
When the Hornets tried to inbound the ball to Paul, Lee appeared to give Paul a push, but there was no whistle as Paul fell to the ground.
"I'm bowlegged, but I don't think I'm that bowlegged," Paul said.
Lee picked up the loose ball and missed a fast-break layup as he was fouled by Paul, but made both free throws to put the Nets up 99-98 with 11.5 seconds to go.
Paul made sure that lead was short-lived and redeemed himself soon after.
About two hours before the game, a smoldering garbage bin fire spewed smoke into the New Orleans Arena. The blaze was quickly extinguished and did not affect pregame warmups or delay the game. ... The Hornets are 14-3 at home this season. ... Yi came in averaging 20.3 points in his previous seven games, but was held to eight points in 32 minutes. ... New Jersey is 1-18 on the road. ... The Hornets invited the entire New Orleans Saints team to the game to honor them for finishing atop the NFC in the regular season. An estimated 30 Saints players showed up. Drew Brees and Pierre Thomas drew some of the loudest cheers of the night when they tossed signed footballs into the stands. ... Musical artist Ludacris and Jacksonville Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio, who participated in Paul's celebrity bowling event a night earlier, both sat courtside.