LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant drove past Josh Smith and rose up with the athleticism of a player half his age, throwing down an arena-rocking, one-handed dunk. A few possessions later, Bryant drove right at Smith and willed a layup over the taller defender for the Los Angeles Lakers' winning points.
For a .500 team, the Lakers are looking pretty good lately. Bryant is the biggest reason why.
Bryant scored 11 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and hit the go-ahead layup with 9 seconds left, leading the 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 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.
"I just had to attack," Bryant said. "I wanted to attack and just go right at them. Take the game to them. Be aggressive. Be physical. And it worked out."
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. Los Angeles hung on for a quality win over the Hawks, a near-certain playoff team with ample motivation to knock off the high-profile Lakers.
Kobe wouldn't allow it, making one big play after another down the stretch. Afterward, he repeatedly compared himself to a fine wine — only getting better with age.
"It was more of a message to my team here, to kind of have that will, that hunger, to push through it by any means necessary," he said. "It's just a challenge. I wouldn't even really categorize it as fun. The fun comes in the challenge, and we're up for it."