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Williamson’s best all-around performance leads Pelicans to 126-108 victory over Raptors

Dyson Daniels came close to posting a triple-double too!

Toronto Raptors v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

It was commonplace to watch Zion Williamson singlehandedly change the momentum of a basketball game through a string of highlights on both ends of the court during his lone collegiate year.

Smoothie King Center patrons finally witnessed the same jaw-dropping performance with their own eyes tonight in the Pelicans’ 126-108 victory over the Raptors.

In the span of 27 seconds — and on the heels of Toronto whittling down New Orleans’ monstrous 31-point lead to a nail-biting 11, Duke Zion happened.

It all started with a block of Pascal Siakam’s floater at the 4:51 mark of the fourth quarter.

He then blew by a double-team from the perimeter on a drive and proceeded to contort his body in mid-air around a third Toronto defender, Juancho Hernangomez, to throw home a double-clutch dunk.

While the crowd was still standing and applauding the previous sequence, he bagged a steal on the Raptors next possession, swiping OG Anunoby’s ill-fated pass that led to another full-throttle finish at the rim.

“That was a huge moment in the game where I think they had cut it to 13, 14 points,” Willie Green said in postgame. “Sort of time, score situation. Z just knew, ‘alright I need to take over the game’ and he did that. And he did it on both ends. We know that his athletic ability offensively is impressive, but to go up and get some of those blocks, to grab a rebound and take it full court, to get to the basket, to get to the foul line, those are things that great players do.”

One sensed a special game could be in store for Williamson after he started a perfect 5 for 5 start from the field and tallied four assists in the first quarter. He was directly responsible for 22 points in the Pelicans’ 40-29 advantage after 12 minutes.

Williamson wound up dismantling the Raptors with a line of 33 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks. That’s awfully reminiscent of his college averages of 30.1 points, 11.8 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.8 steals and 2.4 blocks, no?

“I told him tonight in the locker room that he was a monster,” Green said. “He carried us. He continued to make the right plays over and over again. When we needed a bucket, we put the ball in his hands. He got to the basket, he got to the free throw line. He was flying around on both ends of the floor, four steals and two blocks. Defensively, he’s in the right spots. Just impressive to see.”

Williamson looked every bit of the superstar who rose to prominence at Duke through sheer effort and ability. He nearly leapt out of the gym for certain rebounds, climbed the ladder multiple times in contesting shot attempts, and utilized his talents to emphatically put an end to Toronto possessions with six combined steals and blocks.

“That guy’s crazy,” Dyson Daniels told WRNO listeners afterwards. “I’ve never seen anyone like him. It’s great to be able to play with him because he can change the game just like that. He does his thing out there and he’s the one who turned that game around for us.”

Zion was everywhere.

But it is also fair to say that he received a lot of help.

Trey Murphy III was the ideal floor spacer for when the Raptors collapsed excessively on Williamson. The second-year man connected on six of his 12 3-point attempts, but as close followers have known since the first day of this season, Murphy is so much more than just a perimeter shooter.

In attempting a season-best 17 field goals, Murphy’s 26 points marked his third consecutive 20+ point game. He had another loud hammer at the rim and made all four of his free throw attempts, but he also did work elsewhere, coming up with five rebounds, one steal and one block.

Contributing in multiple areas was certainly a theme on the night, something that multiple Raptors pride themselves on accomplishing every time out, but the Pelicans were collectively much stronger from start to finish.

Jonas Valanciunas had 16 points, 13 rebounds and three assists, and Larry Nance Jr. totaled 10 points, five rebounds, two 3s and a block/steal, but Daniels might have been the most impressive Pelican outside of Williamson.

The rookie darn near recorded a triple-double in just the 13th game of his NBA career. In 31 minutes off the bench, Daniels had 14 points, eight rebounds, nine assists and a steal.

“He was huge for us,” Green said. “It’s funny watching him play, he’s just getting better and better the more that he gets time. His poise. He makes really good plays. I mean, nine assists, eight rebounds, like you said 14 points, close to a triple-double from a 19-year-old young man. It’s impressive.”

Daniels’ performance was particularly timely because Herb Jones (12 points, four rebounds, two 3s) was forced to leave the contest after twisting his left ankle just four minutes into the second half.

There’s no doubt in my mind that had Daniels been drafted by a lottery team, he would be starting and posting big lines on a regular basis. His name would be in the mix along with Paulo Banchero and Bennedict Mathurin for the 2023 Rookie of the Year Award.

Jose Alvarado didn’t have the biggest statistical game (four points, five assists, two steals), but he was instrumental in Fred VanVleet getting tossed early in the second half. We also got a good glimpse at what he brings to the locker room and court behind the scenes.

While it was fun to see Jose point at Zion and exclaim, “We good baby cause we got him,” Alvarado also tried his damndest to get Daniels one more assist so that the rookie could have finished with the first double-double of his career.

This Pelicans team is always looking out for each another. They strive hard to share the shine. But most importantly, their unselfishness shows up when it’s time to suit up no matter the odds.

“First and foremost, it’s just such a blessing to have all of our guys buy in to the way we want to play, even when guys are out,” Green said. “Their preparation allows them to meet the challenge, meet the opportunity. I’m grateful. That’s what tonight was. It was playing against a really good team, locking into our game plan discipline and we went out and executed on both ends of the floor.”

In a game that saw two core guys sidelined in Brandon Ingram and CJ McCollum, the Pelicans’ 27-point halftime lead tied for the fourth-largest in franchise history. They scored 126 points in all and shot over 50% from the field, 40% from 3 and 80% from the free throw line against a Toronto team that entered the matchup with the seventh-best defense in the league.

There’s good reason why the Pelicans are five games over .500 for the first time in 329 games. They’re a deep and talented team that’s primed to continue making a lot of noise for the rest of this season ... and beyond.

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.