PHOENIX (AP) - Instead of savoring backup center Marcin Gortat's career-high 25 points, the Phoenix Suns were left wondering how they nearly blew an eight-point lead in the final 18 seconds.
The New Orleands Hornets were wondering what the officials were looking at in the wild final sequence in the Suns' 104-102 victory Sunday night.
Grant Hill blocked Marcus Thornton's inside attempt with 3.9 seconds left, escaping a goaltending call, and Chris Paul's desperation 3-point attempt - after contact with two Suns - missed the rim as time expired.
``Obviously, I wish we could have closed the game out in the end,' Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. ``They made a couple of shots and we fouled them on a 3-point shot. That got the game close... It was a great win against a really good basketball team.'
Paul led New Orleans with 26 points. The Hornets were coming off a loss Saturday night in Sacramento that snapped their winning streak at 10.
Paul made a 3-pointer with 17.2 seconds left to cut it to 104-99, Trevor Ariza then stole Hill's errant pass and Paul made three free throws with 12 seconds left after he was fouled by Channing Frye.
The Hornets got the ball back with 10 seconds left when Steve Nash stepped out of bounds trying to control Hill's wild inbounds pass.
New Orleans wanted a goaltending call on Thornton's late try.
``I guess it's a hard call when the ball hits the backboard and then gets blocked,' Paul said. ``We made it too hard on the guys who had to make a tough call at the end.'
Hornets coach Monty Williams agreed.
``When I came back and looked at the film, the film doesn't lie and it was obvious that it was goaltending,' he said.
Gortat was 9 of 10 from the field and had 11 rebounds in 23 minutes,becoming the first Phoenix reserve since Tony Delk in 2001 to have at least 25 points and 11 rebounds. Hill added 16 points, and Frye had 11, hitting three of the Suns' nine 3-pointers.
``After the first half I had three fouls and a lot of frustration and anger for a lot of different people on the court,' Gortat said. ``I'm just proud of myself, I handled that situation pretty well.
``I was actually joking around and I said to one of my teammates, 'I just need one quarter, there's nothing to worry about ... and I'll be fine.'
Gortat scored all of his points in the second half.
The Hornets lost center Emeka Okafor, their leading rebounder, to a muscle strain just before halftime. Okafor was doubled over in pain after losing the ball out of bounds with close to 2 minutes left in the second quarter, and appeared to be holding his left hip. He didn't return.
Without Okafor, who left the game with seven rebounds, all offensive, the Hornets struggled with interior defense. Gortat got free and hauled in two long passes from guard Zabian Dowdell for dunks, including a no-look assist from above the 3-point line with 9:30 left in the game that gave the Suns a 92-84 lead.
The Suns scored 35 third-quarter points to turn a 53-53 halftime tie into an 88-80 lead. The lead ballooned to 12, at 100-88, when Nash found Gortat for a dunk with 5:03 to play.
Nash had 15 assists and 10 points for his 26th double-double of the season, which leads all NBA guards.
David West added 17 points for the Hornets.
NOTES: Suns guard Goran Dragic didn't play after stepping on glass at his home Saturday and receiving nine stitches in his left foot. Dragic, the Suns' backup point guard, is expected to miss the next few games but is officially listed as day-to-day. ... The Suns finished January with an 8-7 record, the team's first winning month of the season.
The Associated Press News Service
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