Needless to say, it was a close contest with 17 lead changes and six ties.
“I just told them there’s going to be times where this is going to happen,” said Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni. We need to defend our turf. Anybody comes in we have to win and all the games just aren’t going to be easy.
“There has to be a lot of will power and getting things done and today wasn’t pretty, but somehow we came up with the win.”
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 34 points on 13-of-27 shooting. Bryant eviscerated the Hawks’ defense with a dizzying array of fadeaway jumpers, body-contorting layups and on one play, a thumping dunk at the 2:17 mark of the fourth quarter that made the home crowd go berserk.
“It’s pretty incredible,” said Coach D’Antoni. “I don’t know where he’s getting his young legs from, but obviously, the last three or four possessions, he just went to the rim and made some incredible shots.”
Lakers center Dwight Howard and forward Josh Smith have been buddies since preschool, but that friendship went out the door at tip-off. Their first on-court encounter came at the 10:50 mark of the first quarter when Howard attempted a low post move on Smith, which he promptly batted away.
Howard was one point shy of a double-double in the first half alone—nine points and 11 rebounds. He would finish the game with 11 points, 15 rebounds and a block.
Smith also came on strong early with 12 first half points and four rebounds. He went on to have 19 points, seven rebounds and three blocks—two of which came against his buddy Howard.
Bryant was an offensive aggressor early on, scoring 11 points in the first quarter on 5-of-9 shooting. He led all scorers at the half with 14 and went off for 20 more in the second half.
The Lakers were up by as many as 16, but Hawks guard Devin Harris shot them back into contention, scoring 12 points in the third quarter. The Hawks got to within three until Bryant hit a turnaround 25-foot 3-pointer in the final 2.4 seconds of the third quarter, putting the Lakers up by six to start the final quarter.
Both teams would volley the lead back and forth in the fourth quarter—10 lead changes. However, Bryant made a driving layup with nine seconds remaining in regulation.
With nine seconds left of solid defense to secure the win, Lakers guard Steve Blake made a key steal on a bad pass by Smith that ended the evening for the Hawks.
“There were times when we had a little bit of momentum and then we come down and get a stop and then turn the basketball over,” said Hawks head coach Larry Drew. “We just can’t play like that. We can’t play like that on the road.”
Al Horford was the high scorer for the Hawks with 24 points on 12-of-20 from the field. Harris and Kyle Korver both provided 16 off the Hawks bench.
Steve Nash had 15 points and 10 assists for the Lakers. Metta World Peace also added 13 points in the win.
“It’s positive that we’ve been winning basketball games the last month or so,” Nash said about reaching the .500 mark. “We got to keep building, keep fighting, and find a way just to improve a little bit and keep this (winning) percentage up.”