LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Chris Paul ran circles around the Los Angeles Lakers in a scintillating performance to lead his New Orleans Hornets to a 109-100 upset victory over the defending champions in their NBA playoff series opener Sunday.
Paul scored 15 of his 33 points in the final five minutes and dished out 14 assists to spur the underdog Hornets to a 1-0 best-of-seven series lead. Game Two is on Wednesday.
"It's the playoffs. My teammates are looking for me to be aggressive," Paul told reporters after adding seven rebounds and four steals. "In the playoffs there aren't as many fouls called. Sometimes you have to force the issue."
Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 34 points but sidekick Pau Gasol struggled through a 2-for-9 shooting effort as the Lakers' recent inconsistent play carried over into the post-season.
In their quest for a third consecutive title Los Angeles has endured a roller-coaster season of winning and losing streaks, dropping five straight before capping the regular season with two straight wins.
Their lack of steady play continued against a New Orleans team that lacks size and had lost all four regular season meetings with the Lakers.
But in their series opener the Hornets nearly led from start to finish and turned to their All Star point guard for a final surge after their lead was cut to 90-87 in the fourth.
Paul ran off six straight points to put the Hornets up six with 3:10 remaining, and after Los Angeles inched within four at 96-92 New Orleans scored eight straight to permanently quiet the Staples Center crowd.
Carl Landry had 17 points and Jarrett Jack added 15 for the Hornets who shot 51 percent from the field.
"Our defense was late on everything," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who admitted to being stunned by the performance. "We did not get the ball inside which is one of our strengths. They were capable of crowding the lane and making it difficult for us."
Center Andrew Bynum returned to the court with 13 points and nine rebounds, having missed the final game of the regular season with a knee injury.
Ron Artest recorded 16 points and 11 rebounds for Los Angeles but the team was defenseless against Paul and the Hornets.
(Writing by Jahmal Corner; editing by Rex Gowar. To query or comment on this story email email@example.com)