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Zion Williamson leads Pelicans to impressive 101-94 victory over Joel Embiid’s 76ers

37 points, 15 rebounds, 8 assists for Big Z; 76ers offense no-show

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at New Orleans Pelicans Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

In the star turn we were all expecting before the season, a vital Pelicans first round draft pick starred in his role as the power forward in defeating the Eastern Conference power Philadelphia 76ers in an uneven brickfest 101-94, finishing with a team-best +10.

Yup, it was Jaxson Hayes!

Hayes came off the bench to provide key minutes as a reserve power forward and block shots and tips, sprint up and down the floor to attract defenders which opened up lanes for teammates, wait patiently before cutting decisively and with intent to harm, and finish dunks (and even shoot a 3, dribble, and pass a little bit). Everything he does is loud. Watch out: the Pellies have some easy ones coming up and may make a run (whether they want to win this season is a different question...).

Hayes finished with 12 points and six rebounds and maximum impact in 19 minutes, His post partner, Willy Hernangomez, finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 19 minutes.

Which is all to say: our expectations for Zion are being met and exceeded each night. As the team’s point guard on the night, Z finished with 37 points, 15 rebounds, and eight assists. The team has a HARD time without him, but when he’s out there, anything is possible.

Tied at half 50-50, the Pelicans advanced their lead as Philly scored just 18 points in the third. Meanwhile, Adams beat Embiid down the floor a few times to help keep the floor unbalanced, resulting in easy buckets for Nola, while staying attentive on D. It seemed mature how the Pels took control in the second half and never felt truly threatened to be saddled with a loss.

Zion vs. Simmons

A lot of Zion’s offensive possessions were guarded by the NBA All-Defense slithering, pouncing Ben Simmons. Simmons did provide quickness and length to challenge relatively well, considering how explosive and efficient Z is on that end.

Zion can almost at will get a shoulder or hip past anyone in the world and get an attempted leaning lay-in up on the rim. Once, faced with a blitzing Simmons at the top of the key in the first quarter, Z quickly spun and got a shot up on the rim which missed, but allowed Hernangomez to corral and slam it home; his floor recognition, timing, and aggressiveness is impressive; this happened later in the game with Adams able to grab an offensive board from a Z miss. Zion was just 6-of-14 in the first half (he seems to make 8 of his first 9 every night).

Late in the game, as noted by the excellent Antonio Daniels, Danny Green was given the assignment, which was effective at times.

Williamson finished shooting 15-of-28 and 7-of-11 from the free throw line. Simmons had 10 points, nine rebounds, six assists, and five steals.

Of note: in many first half minutes, the Sixers played a fair amount of zone defense, and interestingly, Jaxson Hayes helped find openings in the defense as a cutter, screener, and spacer to generate shots for the Pels.

Brandon Ingram Back (also vs. Simmons)

B.I. missed the previous five games before returning tonight and yikes: his shooting night looked rough, particularly in the first half when almost none of his shots went down. Ingram was 2-of-12 with six rebounds but was always in the places he needed to be. His defense can be up and down, but in a league that rarely rewards “good” defense, even his shot contests seem to result in makes. I dunno, I remain hopeful on that side of the ball.

Ingram made a couple more shots, including a big, open 3 produced by a Zion drive and pass. He finished with 5-of-21 with 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Simmons also guarded some 4th quarter minutes against Ingram in an attempt to keep him from the type of movement that keeps the offensive flow and spacing moving; he also forced a B.I. dribbling turnover with pressure late in the game. I’ll reward Simmons here for living up to his defensive potential and hype ... he’s very good off-ball like that.

Maybe not tonight, but B.I. will find offensive rhythm and win us a game with a 40-piece again soon.

Philly’s Offense

It’s not great! They shot 41 percent tonight and even that seems really high for how many misses I saw. Embiid of course makes things happen, but he missed all his 3s and wasn’t escorted to the free throw line (just four FTA) — Hats off to Steven Adams for forcing Philly’s big man to beat the Pels away from the paint.

Shake Milton helped off the bench for a stretch, but generally, unless Embiid or Tobias Harris was doing it, it wasn’t happening. Seth Curry was o’fer, and Simmons only took six shots. This team is asking a lot out of Korkmaz... where’s George Hill?

Up next: Pels vs. Cleveland on Masters Sunday!

MUST WATCH: Collin Sexton has been excellent all year — his shotmaking is undervalued and backcourt teammate Darius Garland is hitting his stride, having dropped a career-high 37 points and numerous broken ankles a few nights ago. Kevin Love just got back from injury, Jarrett Allen is the man, and hopefully Larry Nance Jr. can recover from whatever this was. Cleveland is FUN.

For more Pelicans talk, subscribe to The Bird Calls podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow this author on Twitter at @Trabeta.