LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant scored 11 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and hit the go-ahead layup with 9 seconds left, leading the Los Angeles Lakers back to .500 for the first time in more than two months with a 99-98 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday night.
Steve Blake stole Josh Smith’s final pass in the waning seconds for the Lakers (30-30), who blew a 16-point lead in the second half before Bryant scored their last six points.
After Bryant scored the Lakers’ final basket while driving directly at Smith, Blake swiped Smith’s desperation pass from underneath Los Angeles’ basket. Bryant threw the ball high in the air to run out the clock on Los Angeles’ seventh straight home victory over the Hawks since 2006.
Al Horford scored 24 points and Smith had 19 for the Hawks, who had won four in a row before consecutive road losses to the Suns and Lakers. Atlanta hasn’t beaten the Lakers anywhere since March 31, 2010.
Steve Nash had 15 points and 10 assists, while Dwight Howard added 11 points and 15 rebounds in the Lakers’ 13th win in 18 games.
The Lakers hadn’t been at .500 since Dec. 28, when they followed a win over Portland with six consecutive losses. They’ve spent the past six weeks digging themselves out of the latest hole in their rut-filled season, culminating in a lengthy stretch of recent solid play despite the absence of injured 7-footer Pau Gasol.
The Lakers visit Oklahoma City on Tuesday night with a chance to have their first winning record since Nov. 20, when they beat Brooklyn to go 6-5.
The teams traded the lead down the stretch of a tense meeting. Bryant put the Lakers up 96-95 with 2:18 to play on a one-handed dunk down the lane, but after turnovers by both teams, Jeff Teague reclaimed the lead for Atlanta with 45 seconds left on a floating layup in traffic.
After Bryant hit two free throws, Horford put the Hawks back ahead with a dunk on a backdoor pass from Smith with 26.7 seconds left. But Bryant drove around Horford and right into Smith at the rim, willing the ball over the defense.
The Lakers made 11 straight shots in the first quarter while jumping to an 11-point lead, but Atlanta scored 11 straight points to open the second. Los Angeles finished the first half on a 22-8 run and stretched its lead to 16 points early in the second half on a run led by Nash, who has been rounding back into something close to MVP form lately after missing most of the season’s first two months with injury.
But Harris scored 12 points in a three-minute spree late in the third quarter, and Atlanta erased Los Angeles’ entire lead early in the fourth.