LOS ANGELES (AP) — As long as there’s time left on the clock, Kobe Bryant can still work wonders even when he’s having a horrible game.
Bryant burnished his reputation as one of the NBA’s greatest closers, hitting a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left after missing his first 15 shots, to help the Los Angeles Lakers hold off the last-place New Orleans Hornets 88-85 on Saturday.
“There’s always time to redeem himself,” Jarrett Jack of the Hornets said. “Nobody’s even going to talk about those first three quarters. They’re going to talk about that last shot he made to put his team over the top.”
It was just the third field goal of the game for Bryant, who finished with 11 points on 3 of 21 shooting as the Lakers ended a two-game skid at home.
“Kobe never gets down on himself,” Andrew Bynum said.
Pau Gasol had 21 points and 11 rebounds, and Bynum added 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Ramon Sessions had 10 points and 10 assists for the Lakers.
Bryant was 0 for 7 on 3-pointers before making his only one. He had five assists, three rebounds and four fouls in 39 minutes. He endured the worst start to a game in his career, having previously missed his first 13 shots against San Antonio on Dec. 28, 2010.
“I’m stubborn. You have to have that kind of attitude, that kind of determination or stubbornness,” Bryant said. “That’s what gets teams over the hump to win multiple championships.
“If I were to miss that shot, everybody would have killed me.”
Jack had 18 points and 10 assists playing with a sprained right ankle for the Hornets, but he missed a go-ahead bank shot with 4.9 seconds left.
“I just played it off the glass wrong,” he said. “I got to the spot I wanted and we got the matchup we wanted. I was expecting Bryant to come over as well. I just shot it off the glass a little too hard, but we got exactly to where we wanted to be.”
Jason Smith added 17 points and 10 rebounds, and former Clipper Al-Farouq Aminu had 10 points for the Hornets, who lost while playing their second straight game with just eight players available because of injuries. Trevor Ariza, Carl Landry, and Chris Kaman all sat out, while new father Gustavo Ayon and Emeka Okafor weren’t with the team.
“It’s tough to go against the Lakers with only eight guys, but everybody on our team hung together,” Smith said.
The Lakers’ anemic bench still got outscored by the Hornets’ three reserves, 26-19. As a team, the Lakers went 32 of 77 from the floor, playing poorly for much of the game until being rescued by Bryant’s late heroics.
“New Orleans came out as the undermanned team and we took them lightly,” Sessions said.
The Lakers trailed 75-65 before he hit a 17-foot jumper over Marco Belinelli with 7:52 remaining for his first field goal.
Bryant followed on the next possession with a fadeaway jumper and got fouled, making the free throw to get his team within seven after sitting out the first four minutes of the fourth.
“Fatigue might have something to do with it,” Bryant said of his struggles, “but I had good shots, good shots out of the rhythm of the offense, but none of them went down. You have to be patient and just focus on the last quarter and focus on getting some good shots.”
Bryant stepped to the line with 58 seconds left after Jack was called for a blocking foul. He made the first and missed the second, leaving the Lakers trailing 85-83 and the fans in agony. Their voices rose in a cheer when he finally made his first basket after groaning on his earlier misses.
“I have a great team here and a lot of support and I really pushed myself defensively to get after the guys,” Bryant said. “Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little bit of the offense and the stamina that you have to defend because that’s what we believe is going to get us to a championship.”
Greivis Vasquez missed a 3-pointer with 31 seconds to go, setting up another signature closing moment by Bryant that Jack couldn’t defend.
“He hadn’t been shooting the ball well all game, so I figured he would try to get to the basket, but he pulled up,” Jack said. “I tried to contest it as best I could, but he hit a tough shot.”
Bryant was 0 for 7 in the first half, missing four 3-pointers while dishing out five assists.
The Lakers opened the game on a 20-6 run before New Orleans scored the final eight points to trail 20-14. Steve Blake sparked the Lakers’ bench with three 3-pointers in the second while Matt Barnes scored four in a row to extend their lead to 41-30. But the Hornets closed with a 9-2 run and trailed 43-39 at halftime.
NOTES: The Hornets have held 40 of their first 52 opponents under 100 points. … Before the game, Bryant met with Lakers fan Allene Wynn of suburban Pacoima, fulfilling the 104-year-old woman’s wish. She attended as a guest of the team and pulled no punches with Bryant, telling him, “You need to play better.” … The Lakers played their first non-holiday home game on a Saturday in the regular season since Jan. 17, 2004. … The Lakers are 2-0 against the Hornets this season, having rallied from 17 points down on the road to win 107-101 in overtime earlier this month.