NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Zion Williamson’s authoritative, two-handed dunk as he was fouled by Boston guard Kemba Walker gave an appreciative crowd its first taste of how effectively the New Orleans Pelicans can close out games with the NBA’s top draft choice on the court.
Williamson had 21 points and 11 rebounds in 27 minutes, and the Pelicans beat the Celtics 123-108 yesterday for their first victory in three games since the rookie star joined the lineup.
The game also marked the first time the Pelicans permitted Williamson to play late in the fourth quarter. He scored eight points in the final three minutes as New Orleans pulled away.
“I felt helpless the last two games not being able to help my team in the fourth quarter,” Williamson said. “Being able to close it out tonight felt good.”
As did his first win, he said, adding: “The first of many, hopefully.”
Jrue Holiday had 25 points, JJ Redick scored 17 and Brandon Ingram added 16 for New Orleans, which snapped a two-game slide. Lonzo Ball’s career-high 15 assists included a long lob to Williamson for an alley-oop layup and an alley-oop pass that Williamson dunked on a sideline inbounds play.
“He’s an easy target to get the ball to,” Ball said of the six-foot-six, 285-pound Williamson. “He’s also mobile, so I can give to him on the run, post-up, pick-and-roll; he can do a lot of different things with the basketball.”
Williamson played his most minutes yet since completing his rehabilitation from arthroscopic knee surgery performed the day before the regular season opened. He had played the first five or so minutes of each quarter in his first two games, but the Pelicans made an adjustment to his fourth-quarter usage to allow the ex-Duke star to be on the court for the final minutes against Boston.
“He’s special,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “It’s hard with him at (power forward) to match up anybody with him, and then at (centre) he’s so quick, he got multiple points on layups off of second shots and second bounce.”