NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Pau Gasol snapped out of his NBA Playoffs funk and Kobe Bryant was his usual prolific self, a combination that proved too much for the upstart New Orleans Hornets to overcome.
Bryant scored 30 points, Gasol added 17 points and 10 rebounds, and the Los Angeles Lakers took control of their first-round playoff series with a 100-86 victory Friday night.
The win gave the Lakers a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with Game 4 in New Orleans on Sunday. Just as important, the performance re-established Gasol as one of the Lakers' primary scoring threats.
"It was just about playing my game and being assertive and being comfortable out there," Gasol said. "Don't try to overthink it. Don't try to think about the last play. Just try to make the right play. It was a much better game on my part."
After making only 4 of 19 shots during the first two games of the series, Gasol caught the Hornets off-guard by taking — and making — a 3-pointer from the corner early in the fourth quarter. The basket ignited a key 10-1 run during which Gasol scored seven points.
"The big aspect is Pau having that 2, 3 minutes of offensive display there in the fourth quarter. It helped establish the lead and give us some room," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He is just too good a basketball player. He can shoot, he can handle the ball, he can do a lot of things. It's just a matter of him finding a comfort zone out there.
"I didn't expect him to find it out on the 3-point line," Jackson added, "but we are not surprised when he makes those shots."
Andrew Bynum added 14 points and 11 rebounds. He briefly went down holding his right knee, but remained in the game after trainers examined him and then got a rest for most of the fourth quarter. Lamar Odom scored 13 points for the two-time defending champs, who took the lead for good when Ron Artest made a layup as he was fouled to make it 13-10.
Chris Paul had 22 points and eight assist for the Hornets, who managed to stay within single digits for long stretches of the game but never truly threatened to take the lead.
"They just had a collective effort tonight," Paul said of the Lakers. "Everybody pitched in and that's what we really can't let them do. ... We fought. We played a great first half. It's just, in the second half it got away from us."
Bryant's intensity was evident from the opening minutes when he violently rejected Carl Landry's attempted close-range shot out of bounds and soon after he cut into the lane for a vicious one-handed jam.
Hornets fans' attempts at booing or heckling him only seemed to help him focus. Hitting on his typical array of demoralizing 3s and off balance jumpers off the glass, he had 15 points in the first half. He didn't need to take the game over in the second because of Gasol's emergence, which the Lakers thought was long overdue after he averaged only eight points, about 11 below his average, during the first two games of the series.
Although Gasol still didn't seem quite himself in the first half, when he had four points, he became a factor when it mattered, hitting his momentum-changing 3 from the corner that made it 78-70 early in the fourth quarter. Soon after, Gasol added a putback and a soft jumper from the baseline to give Los Angeles an 85-71 lead with 8:36 left, the Lakers' largest lead to that point.
Paul meanwhile, faded a bit in the second half, when he scored only four points.
While the Lakers made defensive adjustments to keep the ball away from Paul, the Hornets' All-Star guard said, "I blame myself because I don't care if they deny."
"I can't let them do that," Paul continued. "I've got to get my shots. I've got to be more aggressive and not allow them to take me out."
The Lakers wound up cruising with a double-digit lead for much of the fourth quarter in the most convincing performance of the series by either team. If the Hornets are unable to bounce back in Game 4, which Paul described as "definitely a must-win," the Lakers could close out the series at home in Game 5 on Tuesday night.
Certainly, the Hornets will need better production from their bench, which was a major factor in their surprising Game 1 triumph but accounted for only nine points on 4-of-17 shooting in Game 3.
Landry scored 23 points for New Orleans, while Trevor Ariza had 12 points and 12 rebounds and Emeka Okafor had 15 points.
Derek Fisher had 10 points for Los Angeles.
The Lakers' size advantage translated to a 48-42 edge in points in the paint and a 43-38 advantage in rebounding. That included 14 offensive rebounds that helped produce 17 second-chance points.
"They are probably a lot bigger than we are but the rebounding to a degree is about attitude," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "We just have to believe we can get those rebounds."
The Hornets kept the crowd in the game by outscoring the Lakers by a point in the third quarter, marking the first time in six quarters since their Game 1 win that they had done so.
Still, Los Angeles led 75-68 heading into the fourth quarter, and the Hornets would get as close as 75-70 before Gasol's scoring spurt put the Lakers firmly in command.
Bynum helped the Lakers dictate the pace of the game early, tormenting New Orleans in the paint with four offensive rebounds and all 14 of his points by halftime. The Lakers took their largest lead of the first half when Bryant's 3, followed by Bynum's overpowering low-post move on Okafor, made it 43-32.
It might have been worse if not for Paul, who had 18 points in the first half, including seven late in the second quarter to trim New Orleans' deficit to 51-42 at halftime.
NOTES: Since Game 1, Hornets reserves are 9 of 34 from the field for 22 points. ... Fisher was called for a technical foul for elbowing Marco Belinelli in the jaw after Belinelli had committed a foul. ... Although the crowd was not nearly as star-studded as the first two games in Los Angeles, there were several celebrities in the sellout of 18,340, including musician 50 Cent, actor Gerard Butler and Saints running back Reggie Bush. ... A fan made a halfcourt shot during a timeout to win a year's supply of 7up.