The New Orleans Hornets didn't expect Pau Gasol to toss up a 3-pointer from the corner any more than the Lakers star's growing chorus of critics expected him to make it.
Gasol stunned them all by draining the shot, then scored twice more during a key fourth-quarter surge that helped secure a 100-86 victory Friday night and put Los Angeles in control of the first-round playoff series.
"It's funny how a shot can kind of turn the momentum around for him when he's had a hard time making shots around the basket and in the paint — and he knocks down a 3," said Kobe Bryant, who led the Lakers with 30 points. "That kind of got him going."
The win gave the Lakers a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series, with Game 4 in New Orleans on Sunday. Just as important, the performance re-established Gasol as one of the Lakers' primary scoring threats following two poor outings. He finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds.
"It was just about playing my game and being assertive and being comfortable out there," Gasol said. "Don't try to overthink it. Don't try to think about the last play. Just try to make the right play. It was a much better game on my part."
Gasol made only 4 of 19 shots during the first two games of the series and took some blame for the Lakers' surprising Game 1 loss.
Hornets defenders could have been excused for not closing down on his 3-point attempt; Gasol put up only three shots from deep the entire regular season, making one.
When asked, figuratively, where his 3-point shot came from, Gasol seemed to be still ruffled by the criticism he's taken recently and uncooperatively responded, "The corner."
When a member of the Lakers' staff later said Gasol had time for two more questions, Gasol added, "Or none."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson figured Gasol was bound to start playing better.
"He is just too good a basketball player. He can shoot, he can handle the ball, he can do a lot of things. It's just a matter of him finding a comfort zone out there," Jackson said. "I didn't expect him to find it out on the 3-point line, but we are not surprised when he makes those shots."
Andrew Bynum added 14 points and 11 rebounds. He briefly went down holding his right knee, but remained in the game after trainers examined him and then got a rest for most of the fourth quarter. Lamar Odom scored 13 points for the two-time defending champs, who took the lead for good when Ron Artest made a layup as he was fouled to make it 13-10.
Chris Paul had 22 points and eight assist for the Hornets, who managed to stay within single digits for long stretches of the game but never truly threatened to take the lead in the second half.
"They just had a collective effort tonight," Paul said of the Lakers. "Everybody pitched in and that's what we really can't let them do. ... We fought. We played a great first half. It's just, in the second half it got away from us."
Bryant's intensity was evident from the opening minutes when he violently rejected Carl Landry's attempted close-range shot out of bounds. Soon after, he cut into the lane for a vicious one-handed jam.
Hornets fans' attempts at booing or heckling him only seemed to help him focus. Hitting on his typical array of demoralizing 3s and off balance jumpers off the glass, he had 15 points in the first half. He didn't need to take the game over in the second because of Gasol's emergence, which the Lakers thought was overdue after he averaged only eight points, about 11 below his average, during the first two games of the series.