NEW ORLEANS — Like an avalanche, it seemed the New Orleans Hornets saw it coming but couldn’t do anything about it.
For the second consecutive game, the Hornets blew a big lead — this time a 25-point cushion — as Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant finished the Hornets off with a huge fourth quarter in a stunning 108-102 victory Wednesday at New Orleans Arena.
Kept from dominating by the defense of Hornets small forward Al-Farouq Aminu much of the game, Bryant scored 18 points in the fourth quarter and finished with 42 to help the Lakers (31-31) bounce back from a loss the previous night at Oklahoma City.
The Hornets (21-41), who blew a 17-point lead in losing to Orlando on Monday night, went without a basket the final 6 minutes, 47 seconds Wednesday after taking a 102-88 lead. New Orleans, which had scored a season-high 39 points in the second quarter, scored just nine in the fourth.
“It was incredible,” Bryant said. “I just directed us offensively, and (center) Dwight (Howard) did his thing defensively for us. … We were like Sybil. It seemed like we were two different teams out there sometimes.”
It was the sixth victory in eight games for the Lakers while the Hornets lost for the fourth time in five games.
Behind Bryant, who also had 12 assists, Los Angeles outscored the Hornets 27-9 to tie the score at 102 with 1:34 left in the game. The time before that saw the Hornets groping — Ryan Anderson traveling at 4:56, Robin Lopez missing a dunk at 3:18, Greivis Vasquez committing a shot-clock violation at 1:49, and Eric Gordon, who also missed open shots down the stretch, stepping out of bounds with 49 seconds left and the score tied at 102.
After Gordon’s turnover, Bryant coolly hit a pull-up jumper with 36.3 seconds remaining to give the Lakers the lead for good, 104-102. Then, after Lopez was blocked at the rim by Howard, Bryant got a breakaway dunk off an out-of-bounds play with 23.6 left. He topped off his performance with two free throws with 5.5 seconds left.
“I knew Lopez was going to challenge him, and I knew Dwight was going to get it,” Bryant said. “It was just a matter of it the ref was going to call a foul.”
Hornets coach Monty Williams was subdued after his team crumbled.
“(The Lakers) forced the issue and kept attacking the basket,” said Hornets coach Monty Williams. “I was disappointed we couldn’t execute down the stretch. We missed a lot of chip shots.”
The Hornets, who had led 63-38 late in the second quarter, led 93-75 entering the fourth. That’s when Bryant took matters into his hands, mostly driving and setting up teammates but also scoring.
A Jodie Meeks 3 brought the Lakers to 100-86, and another trey by Meeks made it 102-92 at the 5:15 mark.
Then Bryant, who shot 7-of-8 in the fourth, sank a 3 and came back with a drive and another 3, cutting it to 102-100 with 3:06 left. A minute and a half later, he drove and tied it at 102 on his way to closing the game out.
Continuing its momentum from the end of the first half, Los Angeles had cut the Hornets once-bulging lead to 15 points, 71-56, 2 ½ minutes into the third quarter. And the player who started it all, rookie guard Austin Rivers, was out of the game with a broken hand and did not return.
However, the Hornets got the lead back up to 83-62 midway of the quarter. And, Gordon sank another 3 at 1:46 that made it 90-70, Vasquez hit one with 43.1 left that made it 93-72 and the Hornets went into the fourth quarter with a 93-75 lead.
The Hornets surged to a 67-48 halftime lead in scoring the most points in any half this season on 56.8 percent shooting and outrebounding the Lakers 28-15. They shot 59.1 percent in the second quarter, with Gordon going 3-of-3 on 3-pointers and scoring 11 points.
New Orleans built a 63-38 bulge with 2:13 left after having gone on a 35-10 run from the start of the quarter. Los Angeles outscored the Hornets 10-4 the rest of the way to prevent things from getting totally out of hand.
Rivers shook the Hornets out of their doldrums in the first quarter, which ended tied at 28. He was at it again in the second with his defense and intensity, and his drive started them on a 12-4 run that produced a 42-32 lead at the 8:29 mark after consecutive baskets by Aminu.
Then after Rivers sank a baseline floater that kept New Orleans ahead by 10, 46-36, Gordon sank 3s on consecutive trips for a 52-36 advantage with 4:28 showing.
It didn’t stop there. Davis made a hook to push it to 20, 58-38, Gordon followed with another 3 and Aminu sank two free throws, getting the margin to 25.