Showing his mastery of the understatement once again, Sam
Mitchell stood at a podium faced with a question about Chris Paul and didn’t
blink an eye before offering his assessment.


“He’s good,” said Mitchell.

As the coach is often heard to say:


With Paul engineering an offence the way few, if any, NBA
point guards can, the New Orleans Hornets shredded the Raptors 118-111 at the
Air Canada Centre last night, demonstrating that they did not become the best
team in the hyper-competitive Western Conference on some fluke.

They did it on the sublime talents of the 6-foot Paul,
the choreographer of an offence that shot 60 per cent against the Raptors — an
offence that really didn’t do anything too flashy but had Toronto befuddled for almost the entire

Paul plays the position with brilliant poise, fast when
he has to be fast, precise when he has to be precise and always, always in

He scored 20 points and dished out 16 assists in his 35
minutes, an efficient performance that left the Raptors unable to cope. They
tried to force the ball out of Paul’s hands, only to see him hit open shooters
with bullet-like passes. They tried to force him one way and he’d get the other
way; they’d close off one path with a second defender and he’d retreat, attack
again and score.

It was a virtuoso performance befitting of a candidate
for MVP hox nours.

“I can’t think of one time tonight where he didn’t make
the right play,” said Mitchell.

It helped Paul greatly that when he made passes, none of
his teammates seemed to miss a shot. David West hit 13 of 21 field goals and
finished with 32 points, Peja Stojakovic had five three-pointers as part of
25-point night and Tyson Chandler found himself free at the front of the rim
enough times to chip in 17.

“We threw a lot of different coverages at them but they
were able to adjust,” said Toronto’s
T.J. Ford. “We were trying to trap (Paul) and make him get rid of the ball but
as we did that David West made us pay for it. We tried everything that was
possible tonight and he was able to pick us apart.”

The Raptors actually played well enough offensively to
give any team a run. They shot 52 per cent from the floor, got 21 points from
Chris Bosh and double-figure output from six others but were never really in
the game.

“The effort was there, we just couldn’t stop anything,”
said Mitchell. “We scored, we shot over 50 per cent, we rebounded the
basketball, we had 31 assists but we could just not stop plays.

“When we got into a situation where we had to get a stop
one-on-one, Peja hit a couple of fadeaway shots at the buzzer, David West
scored on the block and Bonzi Wells took us inside and scored on us. We just
couldn’t get a stop.”

A scrambling backup group of Jose Calderon, Carlos
Delfino, Jamario Moon, Kris Humphries and the newly acquired Linton Johnson
carved what was a 24-point Hornets lead to six with just under two minutes
left, but that’s when New Orleans coach Byron
Scott brought Paul, West, Stojakovic and Chandler
back into the game and it was over.

“Twenty-point leads are broken every night in this
league,” said Paul. “Toronto
is a great team, they never gave up and that’s why we had to come back in and
finish it off.”

Mitchell made a one-time change to the starting lineup
that was matchup driven and will not be reprised anytime soon. Jason Kapono
responded to getting into the starting lineup by going scoreless and
rebound-free in his 16 minutes.

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