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Pelicans timely utilize Point Zion in 112-91 rout of Clippers

New Orleans’ depth also shined in the 32-point turnaround

New Orleans Pelicans v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The New Orleans Pelicans struggled to find their footing early, falling behind by as many as 11 points, but then they found their groove in the second quarter and never looked back, running away with the 112-91 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers.

“We talked about it at halftime that we didn’t play our best half,” Willie Green said. “Shooting the ball, kind of got off to slow start especially in that first quarter, but to be tied going into halftime, we felt we were in a good position to make a run in the third quarter.”

Zion Williamson’s return was not only a triumphant one after missing the previous two games, he was most instrumental in the turnaround.

Once the Pelicans started involving Williamson in more actions with and without the ball around the perimeter, it opened up a number of easy scoring opportunities. The offense found its rhythm, and with the defense holding down the fort throughout, the final outcome was inevitable.

“The thing that we did today that I hadn’t done a lot was we just put the ball in Z’s hands at the top,” Green said. “And he kind of played point guard for a bit during stretches in the game to take advantages of some of the mismatches.”

Point Zion was so effective because the Clippers refused to take their eyes off the phenom. Take, for instance, the following play where Jaxson Hayes was the recipient of a quick pass by Williamson.

All five sets of L.A. eyes were focused on Zion and he took full advantage. He made all the right plays. Not only did he nearly finish with a triple-double (21 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists), he was darn near mistake free (one turnover).

“Glad to have him back,” Green said. “When he touches the ball, I’ve said it before, but he makes the right play. Whether that’s a score for himself, finding his teammates, or kicking it out, setting screens, continuing to move, he was fantastic.”

That performance is so incredibly impressive for a player who has played so little competitive basketball over the last year and a half.

Williamson was far from alone in carrying the weight.

Coming off a couple of rough shooting performances, CJ McCollum was lights out when the Pelicans made their run. His two 3s out of halftime must have felt like daggers for Clipper fans, but he didn’t let up, digging into his bag to show off an array of moves and shots on the move.

McCollum seems to know how to straddle that line perfectly of knowing when to involve teammates versus looking to score. While his jumper was off in the previous two games, he totaled 23 assists. This afternoon he knocked down 47.4% of his field goals and 50% of his 3-pointers en route to 22 points.

“I think what I’m seeing the most out of CJ is a balanced attack,” Green said. “There’s times, where you guys have seen in the past couple of games, where he has double digit assists. Then there’s times he takes over the game and scores. The responsibilities of having the ball, making plays and being decisive for him, he’s taken full advantage.”

Naji Marshall (17 points, six rebounds, four assists, three 3s), Trey Murphy (15 points, five rebounds, three 3s) and Larry Nance Jr. (15 points, nine rebounds, three assists) were most spectacular in supportive roles.

Let’s be honest, Marshall is really thriving in a big-minute role. His defense has always been the strongest part of his game — that tenacity is ever present, but his offense has been quite the welcome surprise over the past week.

Marshall has scored 15 points and shot over 50% from the field in three straight games.

Just ponder this thought experiment for a minute: Naji, Trey, Larry and Jose Alvarado are going to be the team’s first four players off the bench once the starting lineup gets fully healthy.

And we have yet to mention what Dyson Daniels did against the Mavericks, or Jaxson Hayes and Devonte’ Graham today.

Hayes was another key cog in the second-quarter turnaround. I thought the following play was absolutely huge for momentum purposes.

If Jaxson doesn’t come up with this steal, the Clippers were poised to shoot another wide-open 3-pointer. Instead, the result was a likely six-point swing in New Orleans’ favor.

Graham has been much maligned over the past season, but credit to him, he’s accepted whatever role has been assigned to him by the coaching staff. While his numbers don’t jump off the page, it feels as though he’s enjoying a nice bounce back campaign.

Graham is coming up with several deflections a game while doing his best to show resistance in every situation. He’s constantly talking and pointing on defense. And then there’s his 3-point ball, it’s back, going in from all sorts of angles.

Graham has made 12 of his 26 3-point attempts through six games, good for a sparkling 46.2 percentage from behind the arc.

What all of this boils down to is that the Pelicans possess the deepest bench in the league. They’ve been able to offset key injuries and a difficult schedule to open the season with a 4-2 record.

The New Orleans Pelicans are a real threat in the Western Conference, and up next, a meeting with the flailing Los Angeles Lakers sits on the schedule for Wednesday.

Laissez les bons temps rouler, right?!

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 @OlehKosel.