The Golden State Warriors no longer have a point guard like that, and the players Baron Davis left behind couldn't quite match Paul's messy magic.
Paul drove for the go-ahead layup with 19.4 seconds left and finished with 21 points and 11 assists in the Hornets' perilous 108-103 victory Wednesday night.
After going 7-0 in the NBA's first unbeaten preseason in six years, New Orleans stayed perfect despite falling apart down the stretch against Golden State. After Paul's jumper gave the Hornets a six-point lead with 5:47 left, they went nearly four minutes without scoring -- including two open jumpers missed by Paul -- while the Warriors took a 101-100 lead on a jumper by Corey Maggette, who had 27 points in his Golden State debut.
But the Hornets' All-NBA point guard put them back ahead twice in the final 65 seconds, including his driving layup through the heart of Golden State's defense. Paul seemed more frustrated than encouraged while he slumped at his locker, still in uniform while watching highlights of the Phillies' World Series victory.
"I felt like I put us in that situation," said Paul, who went 3-for-10 in the second half. "I had a lot of shots I normally make, and I missed them. Then I fouled (Golden State) and let them get ahead. This was an ugly game, but for an opener, we'll take it."
David West led New Orleans with 24 points, while Peja Stojakovic added 16.
Stephen Jackson scored 26 points and Kelenna Azubuike added 17 for the Warriors, who blew numerous opportunities to take charge late in their third straight season-opening loss, but still came out encouraged simply by hanging with the Hornets.
"We played at a high level the whole game," said Jackson, who played all 48 minutes and got ample time at point guard. "We made a lot of mistakes, but that's to be expected. I'm happy with my team."
After Paul's go-ahead layup, Jackson's simple inbounds pass to Al Harrington went out of bounds. Stojakovic then hit two free throws before a missed 3-pointer by Harrington, who struggled with 5-of-17 shooting one day after publicly requesting a trade.
Harrington waffled on his trade request after the game, saying he simply wanted to play major minutes. He played 42 against New Orleans.
"For us to win, I need to be more productive," Harrington said. "I think everybody knows that."
Golden State dropped to 2-5 in its last seven openers, all at home. The Warriors clearly could have used Davis down the stretch, but they'll have to get used to life without him.
"We can't think about that," Jackson said. "We've got to go with what we've got."
New Orleans returns much of the same cast from the most successful team in franchise history, but added two-time NBA champion James Posey, who had 11 points. The Hornets won 56 games and the Southwest Division title before reaching the playoffs' second round, and most experts consider them a title contender -- even after a mediocre opening effort.
"Great finish, but I hope that all of them don't start off this way," coach Byron Scott said. "We got a little bit more aggressive, and our communication got better in the last few minutes. I was shocked (Paul) missed those two wide-open shots, but he responded in the right way."
Golden State started the season without the top two scorers from last season's 48-34 team, the winningest club that failed to make the playoffs in the past quarter-century. Davis is with the Clippers after opting out of his deal, and Monta Ellis is suspended without pay until early December while he recovers from his infamous leg injury in a motorized scooter accident.
Oakland native DeMarcus Nelson was the Warriors' starting point guard, parlaying a strong training camp into the chance to become the team's first undrafted free agent rookie to start on opening night since the club moved to the Bay Area in 1962. After Stojakovic hit three jumpers over him in the first three minutes, Nelson was pulled for Azubuike -- but he returned with a handful of strong plays in the second quarter, finishing with six points in 14 minutes.
Notes:@ Warriors coach Don Nelson celebrated the start of his 30th NBA season by signing a two-year contract extension through 2011. Nelson is 52 wins shy of tying Lenny Wilkens' league record for career coaching victories. ... Jackson started the 450th game of his NBA career. ... Golden State's Andris Biedrins fouled out with 14 points and 12 rebounds.