No matter how bad this season may look by the Lakers’ lofty standards, it should be obvious by now that Kobe Bryant isn’t remotely close to giving up.
Bryant scored 13 of his 42 points during a 20-0 run in the last 6:22 of the fourth quarter, and Los Angeles overcame a 25-point deficit to fend off the New Orleans Hornets, 108-102 on Wednesday night.
The vintage performance featured about every shot in Bryant’s extensive repertoire, from off-balance jumpers angling way from the hoop, to quick-strike transition 3-pointers, to driving layups as he was fouled. He also kept his teammates involved with 12 assists, and by the time the stirring comeback was complete, the Lakers had not only staved off potential embarrassment, but also emerged increasingly confident about their playoff chances.
”I believed we were going to win it the whole time,” Bryant said. ”The most important thing for me was to bring my teammates along with me. I had to force the game upon them a little bit and change the momentum and get everybody believing we could do this together.”
The Hornets were still ahead by 21 in the final minute of the third quarter when Greivis Vasquez’s 3-pointer made it 93-72, and even after the Lakers had whittled their deficit to 12, the Hornets went up 102-88 on Robin Lopez’s dunk with 6:47 to go. But the Hornets would not score again, and Bryant, who also had 12 assists, began to take over with help from Jodie Meeks, who hit two of his five 3-pointers during the final surge to finish with 19 points.
”This game brought us closer together as a team,” said Dwight Howard, who had 20 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks, including a key rejection of Lopez’s attempted game-tying shot in the final 30 seconds.
”This is what it takes when you’re playing for the playoffs and then when you’re in the playoffs, fighting through games like this and it just shows our character. We had a tough one last night, we started out on a bad note tonight, but instead of giving up, we kept fighting until the end.”
Bryant, who injured his right elbow in a loss at Oklahoma City on Tuesday night but played through it to score 30, scored 25 points in the second half in New Orleans. He had 18 in the final quarter as the Lakers (31-31) pulled back to .500 and remained within 1 1/2 games of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Bryant’s driving layup with 1:34 left tied it at 102. He then pulled up for a 10-foot fade to put the Lakers ahead with 36 seconds left.
”It’s tough games like this that really strengthen the bond between us players and that’s really what the playoffs is about,” Bryant said. ”You have adversity. It’s about who’s going to stick together and who’s not going to break.”
Metta World Peace added 11 points for the Lakers, many of whom lingered in the locker room after the game, along with coach Mike D’Antoni, to watch Dallas hold on to beat Houston – another result that helped Los Angeles.
”It was a big win tonight and it will be a nice ride home,” D’Antoni said. ”Then Friday you have to play another game (against Toronto).”
Eric Gordon scored 18 for New Orleans but missed all five shots in the fourth quarter. Vasquez had 15 points and 12 assists, but missed all six of his shots in the final period. Ryan Anderson scored 14, while Lopez had 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Hornets coach Monty Williams was at a loss to explain why the Hornets completely came apart during the final minutes, winding up with only nine points in the final period while giving up 33.
”We just couldn’t execute, and once it started to roll that way it’s hard to stop that momentum,” Williams said. ”We gave up 33 when we needed to get stops and that is hard to swallow and that is all on my shoulders. There is nobody else to look at but me.”
Anthony Davis added 13 points for New Orleans but played less than a minute of the fourth quarter because of Williams’ decision to leave Anderson in the entire period.
”Ryan was knocking down shots,” Williams said. ”He spaces the floor so much that it gives Greivis and Eric room to operate. So, that’s a call I made.”
Al-Farouq Aminu had 12 points and 16 rebounds, and Austin Rivers had 10 points on 5-of-6 shooting, but did not play in the second half after breaking a bone in his right hand. Team officials say he’ll miss 4-6 weeks.
The Lakers came in with a nine-game regular season winning streak against New Orleans, but when Howard’s rim-rattling dunk put Los Angeles ahead 8-4, that was the largest lead the Lakers would have until the final seconds.
After the first quarter ended in a tie at 28, the Hornets then turned in their best single quarter in the entire season.
New Orleans scored 39 points in the second quarter, giving them a season-high 67 points at the half.
Rivers, playing more aggressively and confidently than usual, opened the period with a driving layup that ignited a 7-0 run that included Anderson’s 3. Later, Rivers spun into the lane and pulled up for a short jumper, then added two more floaters in what turned into a 27-6 run. Gordon hit three 3s during the spurt.
Aminu’s free throws capped the run, which gave New Orleans its largest lead at 63-38.
Bryant settled the Lakers down by taking the ball inside and getting to the foul line, scoring six straight. He finished the quarter with a driving layup as he was fouled to give him 17 points and pull Los Angeles to 67-48 at halftime.
Notes: The Hornets have not beaten the Lakers in the regular season since March 29, 2010, in New Orleans. … Vasquez has 23 double-doubles this season. … Those sitting courtside included actor Robert DeNiro (who sat next to Hornets owner Tom Benson), Baltimore Ravens receiver Jacoby Jones, Saints coach Sean Payton and new Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. Earlier in the day, Jones, a New Orleans native, represented the Ravens when the club donated a pair of Harley Davidson motorcycles to the New Orleans Police Department in an expression of gratitude for the security protection the club received during Super Bowl week.