Zion Williamson set the tone for a dominant New Orleans Pelicans’ victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves with a string of emphatic first-quarter dunks.
Still harbouring an outside shot at the playoffs, the Pelicans passed Portland for 10th place in the Western Conference and pulled within four games of eighth-place Memphis with a decisive 120-108 road win.
The Pelicans are 11-9 over their last 20 games and have won 15 of their last 18 games against opponents with losing records.
Williamson’s first appearance in Minnesota contributed to a sellout crowd of 18,978 and the two highest-scoring teams in the NBA over the four-plus-week span since the February 6 trade deadline did not disappoint them.
Williamson took all of 16 seconds to assert himself, bullishly driving into the lane with little impediment on the first possession and throwing down a two-handed slam.
The 19-year-old and first overall pick in the 2019 Draft had four dunks in the first seven-and-a-half minutes of the game, including two off perfect lob passes from Lonzo Ball that came during a 21-4 spurt by the Pelicans covering barely more than four minutes.
Lonzo Ball connected with Zion Williamson for a full-court alley-oop during the Pelicans’ win against the Timberwolves
The first alley-oop from Ball travelled almost three-quarters of the court.
Williamson finished the game with 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting. In doing so, he became the first NBA player to score 20-plus points in at least 16 of his first 20 career games, according to ESPN Research, since Michael Jordan in the 1984-85 season for Chicago.
Highlights of the New Orleans Pelicans’ clash with the Minnesota Timberwolves in Week 20 of the NBA
“He carried us all night. No letdown from him today. You could see from start to finish he was definitely determined to get this win,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said.
The Pelicans have certainly perked up since the debut of Williamson, but the presence of veteran guard Jrue Holiday, though, can’t be discounted in their improvement.
Holiday just missed his second triple-double against Minnesota in less than a week, putting up a season-high 37 points and adding nine rebounds and eight assists on Sunday.
“Jrue was incredible today. These performances from him have been coming a lot lately,” said Williamson. “It was one of those games where, we need a bucket to get the momentum back, he was there.”
Jrue Holiday scored 37 points on 13-20 shooting with three triples, nine rebounds, eight assists along with a steal and block versus Minnesota
This was Holiday’s fourth 30-point performance of the season. In three match-ups with the Wolves this season, he is averaging more than 27 points.
“When they made their push, we got stops, and we got some big stops, and the momentum shift went the other way,” Holiday said.
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