Early on, Kobe Bryant appeared to be set for another game of tormenting New Orleans’ NBA franchise.
However, the Pelicans turned back Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center with a parade into the lane.
Scoring 60 points in the lane, the Pelicans built a 23-point lead before weathering a late Los Angeles run in taking a 109-102 Western Conference home win.
“We just didn’t do the job defensively,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “They pretty much did whatever they wanted to in the paint. There was no resistance whatsoever.
“That was probably the worst defense we’ve played, from preseason all the way to this point. We tried to go to a zone; they got layups out of that, as well. Nothing was working defensively.”
New Orleans (4-3) shot 56.3 percent against the Lakers (1-7), who are last in the NBA in defense while trying to learn Scott’s system. The Pelicans held the Lakers to 41 percent, including 32 points in the lane.
Anthony Davis again had a stellar performance, getting 25 points and 12-of-16 shooting, along with 12 rebounds and six blocked shots. Small forward Tyreke Evans bounced back from a tough game at Cleveland with 19 points, a career-high 11 assists and five assists. And, point guard Jrue Holiday and forward Ryan Anderson each scored 17.
It was the third win in four games for New Orleans, who had played five playoff teams among its first six games. The Pelicans went to 3-1 in home games and evened their record against Western Conference teams to 2-2. And, it was the second consecutive win against the Lakers, going back to last season.
Bryant, who at age 36 and in his 19th season leads the league in scoring, had 33 points, the most against the Pelicans this season. However, he shot just 10-of-28, as the Pelicans varied their defense from traps to man-to-man.
“We tried to kind of crowd him; we wanted him to see more than one or two people,” said Holiday, who with Eric Gordon was given most of the credit for keeping Bryant in check, particularly in the second half. “I think the bigs did a good job of getting those long rebounds and boxing out, because (the Lakers) like to push you under the basket.
“We just wanted to give Kobe a lot of different looks and try to make him uncomfortable.”
Having gone into halftime with a three-point lead, the Pelicans seized total control in the third quarter, building an 85-72 bulge. The Pelicans carried their defensive momentum into the third by double-teaming Bryant along the baseline area.
Leading 59-57 at the 8:30 mark, Gordon scored on a tough drive after Bryant traveled. The Pelicans then outscored the Lakers 11-3 in pushing the margin to 70-60 at the 5:44 mark. Anderson sank a big 3 with 1:25 left, then Davis, after blocking a drive by Bryant made two free throws with 14.8 seconds remaining for an 83-72 margin.
New Orleans had gained enough breathing room by holding Los Angeles to 7-of-20 shooting in the quarter. Meanwhile, the Pelicans were a sizzling 16-of-22 in scoring 34 points.
And, despite Bryant’s determination, there would be no heroics this time. Austin Rivers started the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer, then threw an extra pass to Anderson for a jumper and a 91-72 lead.
When Anderson answered a 3-pointer by Bryant with one with eight minutes left, the Pelicans led 99-78, leaving little doubt. New Orleans went into halftime leading 51-48. However, New Orleans railed 46-41 with 3:39 in the second quarter before holding the Lakers without a basket until Wesley Johnson’s double-clutch shot at the halftime buzzer.
The defense had launched the Pelicans an a 9-0 run. When Holiday drove an lobbed to Davis for a backboard-shaking two-handed dunk a minute later, the Pelicans had a 50-46 advantage.
Los Angeles had gone from shooting 30 percent midway of the first quarter to 47 percent late in the second. However, Bryant, who had torched the Pelicans in the first quarter, scored just two in the second.
Holding Los Angeles to 30 percent shooting for most of the first quarter, the Pelicans led 21-14 with 3:30 showing. Bryant then sank three 3-pointers on successive possessions.
Bryant finished the quarter with 14 points, and L.A led 25-23 at the end of the first despite the Pelicans having scored 22 points in the paint to the Lakers’ eight.
“When Kobe started hitting shots, I thought the place started shaking a little bit, but our defense in the second quarter came back, and we held them to 23 points,” Williams said. “I thought we did enough to weather that storm, and then our defense kicked in.”