LOS ANGELES (NBA.com exclusive) -- For about five minutes, the defending champs appeared untouchable.
After a seesaw battle much of the game, the Lakers had a masterful stretch in the third quarter, scoring 18 unanswered points and clamping down on the Hawks defensively on their way to winning 118-110 on Sunday at Staples Center.
"We picked up our intensity tonight," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "It started with #37 (Ron Artest). He picked up the energy level defensively and I told him, the game was on him. I felt like the energy really changed the complexity of the game and we all kind of rallied behind him."
Bryant led all scorers with a season-high 41 points on 15-for-29 shooting, a night-and-day difference to Friday's performance against the Mavericks when he missed 13 of 19 shots and finished with 20 points.
In a game that saw 15 lead changes and six ties early on, the Hawks (2-1) kept pace with the Lakers (2-1) for the entire first half mostly behind the scorching hand of guard Joe Johnson, who finished with a team-high 27 points.
The All-Star guard recorded 18 points and connected on 7-for-8 from the field in just nine minutes in the first half, but then was swallowed up by the Lakers defense the rest of the game. He made just one shot in eight attempts after halftime, mostly because of Artest's play.
"I'm faster this year, its going to be tough for a lot of players," Artest said.
For the game, the Hawks recorded 20 turnovers. During their explosive run, the Lakers tallied six steals.
Woodson was particularly disappointed in his team for giving up so many points early.
"We scored enough points tonight," Woodson said. "You win on the defensive end a lot of the nights and we didnt do that tonight."
What Woodson was talking specifically about was the Lakers third quarter deluge.
After Atlanta's Mike Bibby hit a 3-pointer to bring the Hawks to within 74-70 at the 6:44 mark, the Lakers went on their 18-0 run.
It was a combination of a swarming Lakers defense and telegraphed passing by the Hawks. The stretch included several uncontested fastbreak dunks by Bryant, Artest and Andrew Bynum, who finished with 21 points.
"We had no presence at all," Johnson said. "We didnt help each other at all and we didnt take ownership to guard out own man. They got way too many layups, way too many offensive rebounds."
A pair of timeouts by the Hawks couldnt slow down the Lakers run either. Finally, it was a Zaza Pachulia layup that stopped the bleeding as the Hawks trailed 90-72 with 1:43 left in the third quarter. Just when the dunk fest was over, however, the Hawks turned the ball over and Lamar Odom passed it to Bryant for a double-pump, two-hand reverse dunk.
In the third quarter alone, Bryant had 14 points himself and the Lakers, who shot 52.9 percent for the game, outscored the Hawks 34-18.
Lamar Odom missed a triple-double by two assists, tallying 11 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists.
For the Hawks, Jamal Crawford had 17 points and Bibby chipped in with 15.
Saddled with foul trouble, Josh Smith was a non-factor for the Atlanta, recording seven points, making just three of 10 attempts.
Marvin Williams and Smith were both held scoreless for the first 19 minutes of play, until Williams hit a pair of free throws and Smith had a breakaway dunk for a Hawks 45-44 lead. Despite shooting 43.2 percent from the field in the first half, the Hawks stayed in the game from the charity stripe, making 16 of 17 compared to the Lakers nine of 10.
In the early going, the Lakers second lineup has coughed up leads, but against the Hawks they kept the pace. The reserves combined to hit 8-for-12 from the field and scored 21 of the Lakers 64 first half points. There was a brief Sasha Vujacic sighting; he hit a 16-foot jumper from the right wing in the second quarter. However, the bench did struggle a bit late. The second unit let a 24-point lead dwindle to 14, prompting Jackson to insert the entire starting lineup with under six minutes to play in the contest.
With the Atlanta loss there are now five undefeated teams (Boston, Orlando, Miami, Denver and Phoenix) in the NBA.