Hornets 91, Celtics 87

Wednesday, November 1st 2006, 3:24 pm
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ The post-Red Auerbach era began Wednesday night with a ceremony honoring the late Celtics' icon _ and a loss by the Boston team that has plummeted from the heady days of his leadership.

Despite several second-half comebacks, the Celtics couldn't overcome New Orleans point guard Chris Paul's 20 points and 10 assists _ or Peja Stojakovic's two baskets in the final two minutes _ as the Hornets won 91-87.

Auerbach, who had seen all 56 previous Celtics season openers, died Saturday of a heart attack near his Washington home at the age of 89. He had planned to attend.

In a pre-game video, fans saw him 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 the influx the past four years of youth and athleticism.

The Hornets also added key components, picking up Stojakovic, Tyson Chandler and Bobby Jackson after finishing six games out of a playoffs spot last season.

But Paul and David West, who had 18 points, remain their leaders. It was West whose tip-in with 12 seconds remaining made it 91-85 and secured the victory.

Paul Pierce, coming off his best season, led Boston with 29 points and 19 rebounds, but missed 8 of his 15 free throws, including four in the fourth quarter. Wally Szczerbiak added 21 points and Al Jefferson had 13.

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, then missed a free throw after he was fouled by Jefferson.

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.

Paul then missed a shot from the top of the key. As West and Pierce battled for the rebound, West tipped it in.

Paul scored the Hornets' last 12 points of the third quarter as they staved off a Celtics comeback and took a 75-65 lead going into the fourth.

His seven assists in the first quarter had led the Hornets to a 26-16 lead after one quarter. They stretched that to 54-41 at halftime when West topped all scorers with 12 points and Paul led all passers with 10 assists.

Pierce wore 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 on it, which they plan to wear all season.

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, JoJo 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.