Zion Williamson played his first career NBA regular season game tonight, starting at power forward, before turning into liquid fire at center in the 4th quarter.
He played 18:18 in his heavily-anticipated January affair, bringing the most athleticism, confidence, and effort in his last shift when he scored 17 straight points for the Pelicans to give the home teamers a lead they’d lose in the last 5:23.
The box score rings up: 22 points (8-11 FG, 4-4 3FG, 2-4FT), 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 5 turnovers in a 121-117 loss at home against the recently-better San Antonio Spurs. Williamson left fans wanting more (MORE! MORE!) in his first three quarters, but got the place jumping when he made 4 straight from beyond the arc to put the Pelicans ahead 107-106.
He came out, Aldridge (32 points, 14 rebounds) stayed great, and the Spurs kept their heads.
When the game first starts, Zion looks gigantic. There, I said it.
Sure is easy to “guard” Trey Lyles, huh?
One of the first times he got the ball, the crowd begged for a shot or rim attack. He didn’t force it on that possession, simply getting the ball to the next spot.
8:09 1st Quarter: ZION LEAVES having played the first 3:51. He went 0-1, with 1 assist, and 1 turnover.
Zion’s very first highlight as a pro came on an assist, with a quick look from the post as LaMarcus Aldridge came to double him in the paint. Williamson made a lefty overhand pass to a cutting Ingram for a dunk.
Zion Williamson finds Ingram for the slam pic.twitter.com/alT5OkdcCR— The Render (@TheRenderNBA2) January 23, 2020
10:35 2nd Quarter: Wanna see Zion’s first basket? Sure you do.
It was an alley-oop, double-flip... no, wait. No, it was just an offensive rebound and putback in traffic.
Zion's first NBA bucket! pic.twitter.com/fmWAFsCgU7— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) January 23, 2020
It’s halftime and Zion finished the half with 8:11 played, 2 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 turnovers. (Meanwhile, Brandon Ingram was 2-11 with 8 points at half, well off the usual high level of play he’s exhibited in his All-Star Game push.)
Zion again starts the half and we’re underway.
10:48 3rd Quarter: Zion gets a guard switched onto him before Aldridge notices and offers himself up as a burn victim. Zion easily whizzes past Aldridge to get to the hoop where he’s fouled and makes 1 of 2 free throws.
9:09 3rd Quarter: Zion fumbles then collects a pass from Jaxson Hayes and makes layup; it was a-very nice!
8:55 3rd Quarter: I’d say allowing a Trey Lyles uncontested dunk counts as a carleess defensive possession.
8:40 3rd Quarter: Z runs into Dejounte Murray (somehow?) for a turnover, which leads to an and-1 for the All-Defensive Team guard.
8:30 3rd Quarter: Zion comes out :( He’s got: 5 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, and 4 turnovers.
Things get better here in the 4th quarter. Zion starts the quarter at the 5 against Jakob Poeltl, and on the first possession attacks him with a spin move, lefty jump hook that misses. A few possessions later, Zion unleashed those hops we’ve been missing.
Zion gets UP for the rebound and fires it to E'Twaun for the tough finish! pic.twitter.com/qBkGhMLILc— New Orleans Pelicans (@PelicansNBA) January 23, 2020
That’s when it sent the SKC crowd into a tizzy, as Williamson drained 4 3-pointers and made a tough lob to suddenly become the Pelicans leading scorer, raising his total to 22 before exiting with 5:23 left.
Quick Team Sports Mention
In the matter of win or loss, the Pelicans were led by seven guys who hit double-figures, and Ingram matched Zion with 22 points; he started 2 of 11 and was able to find his shot in the second half. Lonzo Ball added 14 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists.
Everything about the game came with noise — all of it due to one Next Great Thing. This was one of those hyper produced television events with Zion talk starting the ESPN game prior, a nice Toronto win versus last year’s four-bounce losers Philly. Everything is Zion; Zion is everything.
It’s probably going to serve everybody well—Zion, front office, coaches, teammates, media, fans—to ensure he isn’t viewed as Today’s Savior. At this point, I just wanna see him start with this type of confidence in Friday.
More Spurs Later
There’s three more Spurs matchups for the Pelicans starting March 18 - each of those games could play a huge part in determining who makes the west’s weak 8-seed. It looks as if OKC has 7 absolutely locked down and headed right for a collision course with Russ-ful Houston at the 6th spot. Meanwhile, one of SEVEN teams can get that final playoff slot.
As you certainly already know, Zion will play again Friday, 7 p.m. at the Smoothie King Center against the Denver Nuggets.