The New Orleans Pelicans on fire. With Zion Williamson leading the way again, they eliminated Phoenix Suns in overtime on Sunday, 129-124, for their second win in three days over last season’s opponent, and their seventh straight victory overall.
With Sunday’s win, the Pelicans improved to 18-8 and now sit alone atop the Western Conference by one game over Memphis Grizzlies. This is the Pelicans’ best start by 26 games in franchise history, and the last in a season they’ve been in first place since April 11, 2008.
“I think we got a lot of experience from last year’s racing,” said CJ McCollum. “A lot of the younger players are getting more opportunities to show what they’ve worked on in the summer. The summer’s work is paying off. Understand that we let a few games slip last year against the Suns and wanted to make sure we take care of the home yard and build winning habits in the future.”
Coincidentally, the 2008 team was led by Chris Paul. The veteran was back in town this weekend and was one of many Suns players upset about the conclusion to Friday night’s game between the two. With the ticking of the seconds the nine swans rose,which led to the rapture of Smoothie King Center and angered several members of The Sun.
Paul and company had a chance at revenge on Sunday, but didn’t take advantage of it, in large part because of another contentious moment involving Paul and Williamson. Early in overtime, Paul was isolated on Williamson as the shot clock expired. Unable to shake the big guy, Paul went for a step back 3 and drew a foul. Or so it seemed. Upon review, it was apparent that Paul extended his legs to the side in an unnatural motion, and the play flipped to an offensive foul. Instead of shooting three free throws with his team down three, Paul missed the game and no one ever came close.
“This was a big call for us,” Williamson said. “My teammates were doing everything we could to get the stop and he got it wrong. That was big for us.”
Williamson continued his impressive career, finishing with 35 points, eight rebounds and three assists on 14 of 21 games from the field. It was the second straight 35-point game and fourth 30-point game during the Pelicans’ winning streak. With Brandon Ingram sidelined for this race, Williamson became the real first choice. Over the seven games, he put up 30 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per night, while shooting 66.9% from the field.
This is the player we saw during the 2020-21 season when Williamson made his All-Star debut. His combination of strength and athleticism is just too much for opponents. Even when teams shift their entire defense to try and stop it, it doesn’t matter; He can jump over it, jump around it, or power through it.
With Williamson operating at an elite level, the third-best defense in the league (Defensive Rating 108.4) and Ingram anticipating a return at some point during their next wild ride, the Pelicans look like a real contender in the West.
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