Zion wins fans with fourth quarter burst in debut but Spurs win game over Pelicans
The hype machine was enormous, out in full force for days leading up to Wednesday night at Smoothie King Center.
Based on the incredible attention focused on a rookie basketball player, the real-life drama could not possibly live up to the awesome build-up, or could it?
It was the 45th game of the season for the Pelicans. It was the first game ever for Zion Williamson and perhaps a bit of a surprise, he drew a starting assignment.
For the first time this season, New Orleans had all of its top players available.
It did not translate as San Antonio ruined the night for a frenzied, packed house in a 121-117 victory.
It was amazing to see Williamson double-teamed when he tried to post up early. His first assist was a perfect pass to Brandon Ingram for a dunk.
Williamson played 3:51 to start the game.
Brandon Ingram, who has been so good this year, had a very poor first quarter, scoring five points but on 1-of-6 shooting with a pair of turnovers.
New Orleans was terrible from 3-point range, missing all eight attempts as San Antonio grabbed a 31-24 lead. The Pelicans shot just 7-of-22 from the field.
Williamson got his first rebound early in the second quarter then his second a minute later and got his first basket on a put-back with an offensive rebound.
Otherwise, it was a tough first half for the Pelicans, who shot just 38 percent from the field and committed nine turnovers.
New Orleans, which plays at a frenetic pace, relying on that pace to create offense, had just two fast break points in the opening half.
Williamson played eight minutes in the half, scoring two points, pulling down rebounds and dishing out an assist. He also had a pair of turnovers.
Despite scoring eight points, Ingram was 2-for-11 from the field in the half.
San Antonio kept New Orleans at bay in the third quarter, building a 94-82 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
Then, Zion went off, scoring straight 17 points in the fourth quarter, giving New Orleans a chance on a night the Pelicans were clearly outplayed. Williamson nailed his fourth 3-pointer with 6:15 to play in the game to give New Orleans a 107-106 lead. After the Spurs answered, the Williamson split a pair of free throws with 5:44 to play in the game to cut the deficit to 107-106.
Then, he exited stage left, clearly fatigued. He would not return. New Orleans would not get any closer.
For those that want to blame Alvin Gentry, a popular whipping-boy for frustrated fans, think again.
Gentry said afterwards that Williamson could not go back in the game, that the medical people said that was it. Gentry added that he would not have taken Williamson out in that situation unless he was told to.
“I’m pretty sure Sean (Payton) wouldn’t take Drew Brees out in that situation,” Gentry said. “We can’t sacrifice his whole future for one short-term thing.”
While Williamson was as advertised in his debut, the best player on the team all season long simply did not have it.
Ingram had 22 points but he was just 6-of-22 from the field. San Antonio got physical with Ingram, who did not get a couple of calls, and he struggled.
Jrue Holiday, coming off of a 36-point effort in a win at Memphis, scored just 12 points.
The loss was important, falling to a team ahead of the Pelicans in the standings. This team must improve at home to be a factor the rest of the way.
There was bound to be an adjustment with Williamson playing. It appeared that the entire New Orleans team got caught up in the hype and played a bit tense.
The adjustment will continue as Williamson works himself into game shape and minutes are reduced for some Pelican players and dispersed differently for others.
In other words, it is possible that things may get worse before they get better but when they get better, they will be significantly better. Hopefully, that will happen sooner, rather than later.
Our first impression when seeing Williamson at Duke was overwhelming.
Our first impression when seeing him in the preseason was smashing.
Our first impression when seeing him in his first real game was scintillating.
The young man, clearly not in game-shape yet, put on a show with 17 points in the fourth quarter, making 6-of-8 field goals and finished with 22 points, seven rebounds and three assists. He made 4-of-4 from 3-point range. That worksheet clearly offset his five turnovers in his 18 minutes played.
New Orleans fans got the long-awaited look at Zion. God-willing, he will remain healthy enough and give Pelicans fans a long look for many years to come with great moments and perhaps great seasons looming on the horizon.
The next opportunity comes Friday night, at home against a good Denver squad.
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Chief Executive Officer
Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…