New Orleans, LA (Sports Network) – Kobe Bryant put the finishing touches on the Lakers’ first-round playoff series with a 24-point effort, as Los Angeles rolled over the New Orleans Hornets, 98-80, in Game 6.
Bryant made all 10 of his free throws as part of the Lakers’ 25-of-26 performance at the stripe, helping the two-time defending champions advance to the Western Conference semifinals against either the Mavericks or Trail Blazers with a 4-2 series victory.
Chris Paul, who scored at least 20 points in each of the first five games, was held to 10, though the All-Star point guard also handed out 11 assists and grabbed eight rebounds in a losing cause.
The Hornets, who were dealt a crushing blow when leading scorer David West suffered a season-ending knee injury in late March, surprisingly took Game 1 in Los Angeles, dropped the next two and used Paul’s triple-double to even the series in Game 4.
But the Lakers’ depth and considerable advantage in the frontcourt wore down the underdogs in Games 5 and 6. Los Angeles owned a 43-30 rebounding edge in the clincher and had 21 second-chance points to the Hornets’ four.
“They used their length to their advantage,” Paul said. “It’s a disappointing loss for us, but we continued to fight. We just didn’t close it out the way we wanted to.”
Los Angeles never trailed in the second half, as Gasol, who was held to two points in the opening 24 minutes, hit consecutive jumpers to start a 12-2 run early in the third that turned a two-point lead into a double-digit cushion.
Bryant ended the stretch with a pair of free throws for a 54-42 lead with 4:19 showing, and was sent to the line again in the closing seconds of the quarter, this time after Hornets forward Jason Smith committed a flagrant foul.
Bryant made both free throws to push the margin to 69-57, and the Lakers put the game away in the fourth.
Smith opened the final quarter with a jumper, but New Orleans made just one field goal over the next six minutes. LA’s subsequent 15-4 run, culminated in two free throws from Bynum, made it an 84-63 game made midway through the stanza, and the Hornets had nothing left in the tank to mount a comeback.
“We’re good at making adjustments and learning. The more a series goes on, the more we learn … so we’re able to pick teams apart later in the series,” said Bryant, who did not show signs of an ankle injury suffered in Game 4.
Neither team led by more than four points in a tight first quarter that ended with the Lakers holding an 18-16 lead.
It stayed close throughout the second, but the Lakers scored seven of the final nine points to go up, 40-34, heading to the break.
The Lakers have won 33 of their last 34 series when having an opportunity to close out the set at any point…Lamar Odom, the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year, posted 14 points and eight rebounds for LA…Carl Landry led the Hornets with 19 points…Paul had five of the New Orleans’ 15 turnovers…Eight of Bynum’s rebounds came on the offensive end…The Lakers will begin their next series at home on Monday.