NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Kobe Bryant scored 22 of his 24 points in the first three quarters, then let his Lakers teammates take over in a dominant 98-80 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Thursday night that wrapped up the series for Los Angeles in six games.
Andrew Bynum added 18 points and 12 rebounds, while Pau Gasol chipped in 16 points for the two-time defending champions, who led by as much as 21 in the fourth quarter to provide an anticlimactic ending to what had been a more exciting series than many expected.
Chris Paul, who helped the Hornets split the first four games with two sensational performances, wasn’t able to deliver the Hornets a third victory. He had only seven points before hitting a 3-pointer with 4:02 to go and finished with 10 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds.
Lamar Odom had 14 points for the Lakers, who once again controlled the paint, outrebounding New Orleans 43-30, including 14 offensive rebounds. The Hornets were routinely frustrated by the ability of the 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum to prolong possessions by snaring his teammates’ missed shots. He had eight offensive rebounds, helping the Lakers finish with a whopping 21-4 advantage in second-chance points.
The Lakers led by double digits throughout the fourth quarter, and Hornets coach Monty Williams finally conceded the game with about a minute to go when he removed the starters, who received an appreciative standing ovation from the sellout crowd in the New Orleans Arena.
The Lakers move on to the second round, facing the winner of the Dallas-Portland series. Game 1 will be Monday at Staples Center.
Carl Landry had 19 points for the Hornets, who have not won a playoff series since the first round in 2008, but who did better than expected after Williams took his first head coaching job last summer with a team that had missed the playoffs last season. Trevor Ariza scored 12 points for New Orleans and Marco Belinelli 11.
After falling behind by as many as 12 points in the middle of the third quarter, New Orleans was as close as 54-48 when Jason Smith hit a jumper. But Bryant and Gasol each hit a pair of free throws to get Los Angeles’ lead back to 10, and each time the Hornets tried to claw back after that, the Lakers had an answer.
When Willie Green hit a 3 to make it 60-53, Bryant came right back with a 3 of his own.
Then late in the quarter, Paul lost the ball under his own basket when he bumped into Ron Artest and tumbled over the baseline, hoping to draw a foul. Instead, Artest put in an easy layup and flexed both biceps while the crowd booed the officials in frustration.
The boos continued when Smith fouled Bryant hard on a drive and was called for a flagrant foul. After conspicuously applauding the call, to the annoyance of Hornets fans, Bryant made both free throws, giving the Lakers a 69-57 lead heading into the final quarter.
The Hornets needed a strong start to the fourth quarter and it appeared they might make one more run when Paul promptly found Smith for an open jumper to make it 69-59. Yet the Lakers once again denied the Hornets any momentum, as Odom responded with a 3 and Bynum scored inside on a possession kept alive by an offensive rebound. Odom added two more free throws and Shannon Brown hit a jumper to complete a 9-0 run that made it 78-59 with 8:28 left.
The game was never in doubt after that.
Both teams struggled to score in a scrappy first half, when there were seven ties and the Lakers held only a slim 33-32 lead after Emeka Okafor’s short jump hook with 3:11 left in the second quarter.
Shortly after, however, Los Angeles opened its largest lead of the half when Artest slipped free for an easy inside basket and Bryant scored on a fast-break layup, sparking a 7-0 run that made it 40-32, before Paul’s jumper — and his first points of the game — made it 40-34 at halftime.
Notes — The Lakers hit 25 of 26 free throws. ... The Hornets are 1-4 in Game 6s, including 1-2 when they are elimination games. ... The Hornets have never won a best-of-seven series that went at least six games. ... The Lakers are 73-29 in best-of-seven series. ... Bryant has scored in double figures in 155 straight playoff games.