It sure looked like Zion Williamson was failing to live up to the hype in what was considered one of the most anticipated debuts in NBA history against the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday night. The New Orleans Pelicans rookie scored only two points in the first half, rarely looking at the basket and generally seeming unsure if he should push his body.
More than anything, Williamson looked out of basketball shape: he spent his early possessions loafing up and down the floor, and never put his world class combination of speed and power on display. This made sense after missing the first three months of the season following meniscus surgery. Things started to change in the third quarter when Williamson soared for an impossible out-of-area rebound and then pushed the break for a Pelicans bucket. Still, he only had five points as the game headed to the fourth quarter.
Everything changed in the final frame. Over the course of 3:08, Williamson caught fire, scoring 17 consecutive points for New Orleans on the back of 4-for-4 shooting from three-point range. It was everything NBA fans were tuning in to see.
Williamson’s incredible scoring burst gave New Orleans a brief lead, but head coach Alvin Gentry would pull him soon after. New Orleans would lose the game, 121-117, to a Spurs team they’re battling for the No. 8 seed. While it would have been amazing to see Williamson stay in the game when he was hot — remember, New Orleans said he had no minutes restriction entering the night, which was obviously untrue — his short stretch of greatness still provided one of the season’s most exhilarating moments.
Williamson’s final line in his first game: 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and five turnovers in 18 minutes. He shot 8-of-11 from the field and 4-of-4 from three-point range.
We provided live updates during Williamson’s debut all night. Follow along as what initially felt like a disappointment turned into something special.
Pregame and starting lineups for Zion’s debut
ESPN had a pregame cam following Williamson through warmups.
Williamson is in the starting lineup for New Orleans, starting at power forward.
Zion didn’t take a shot from the field before the first TV timeout, but he did register his first assist on this feed to Brandon Ingram.
Zion Williamson finds Ingram for the slam pic.twitter.com/alT5OkdcCR— The Render (@TheRenderNBA2) January 23, 2020
- Williamson missed his first shot on a floater near the basket with 8:30 left in the first quarter. He checked out the game the next possession. His first stint lasted for 3:51. He did not re-enter the game in the first quarter.
Williamson scored his first NBA basket off an offensive rebound and putback.
The Spurs are out to a 43-31 lead midway through the second quarter. Williamson has three rebounds, but yet to have a big impact. He has subbed out with 7:35 left in the second quarter, and did not re-enter.
Zion’s running like he’s trying to avoid an injury, which is understandable I suppose.— Mike Prada. I have spoken (@MikePradaSBN) January 23, 2020
The Spurs lead the Pelicans, 60-51, at halftime. Williamson has played eight minutes, and has two points, three rebounds, one assist, and two turnovers.
Williamson went to the foul line early in the third quarter, and split a pair of free throws:
Zion misses his first free throw pic.twitter.com/B5BGaeJYEi— The Render (@TheRenderNBA2) January 23, 2020
He also had two sloppy turnovers in the third quarter and a layup on an assist from fellow rookie Jaxson Hayes.
Zion fumbles the chance for a slam but scores anyway pic.twitter.com/0j6Z7V2cgW— The Render (@TheRenderNBA2) January 23, 2020
He checked out in the third with 8:30 remaining.
This rebound and transition pass from Zion in the fourth quarter was his most impressive play of the night to that point.
Zion with a sweet rebound and sparks the transition bucket pic.twitter.com/7lV2pMRfme— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) January 23, 2020
Williamson scored 17 consecutive points in a 3:08 stretch in the fourth quarter. He hit a three-pointer, converted an alley-oop layup, hit another three, then finished a post feed inside. Then Williamson hit another three and another three and added a layup. After a boring debut, Williamson found a way to make it exciting in the fourth.
Here are the highlights from Williamson’s 17 straight points in the fourth quarter:
Zion Williamson scored 17 points in a 3-minute stretch during the 4th quarter. Here are all 6 made shots: pic.twitter.com/ineIxjIX63— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) January 23, 2020
Here are all of the three-pointers individually:
Zion hits his first career three pic.twitter.com/mpyKA1srLP— The Render (@TheRenderNBA2) January 23, 2020
Zion hits his THIRD straight three! pic.twitter.com/xLSj3Bcc5T— The Render (@TheRenderNBA2) January 23, 2020
Zion hits his 4th straight three pic.twitter.com/AElsFIGuwo— The Render (@TheRenderNBA2) January 23, 2020
Williamson finished his night with 22 points in 18 minutes. Almost all of the damage came in a quick stretch during the fourth quarter. He checked out of the game shortly after, and was finished for the night.
This about sums it up:
so, Zion Williamson is pretty popular pic.twitter.com/il9W2Ep2bQ— SB Nation (@SBNation) January 23, 2020
The Spurs won the game 121-117.