CLEVELAND, Ohio – New Orleans Pelicans rookie phenom Zion Williamson played on the road for the first time in his career Tuesday, and the venue was Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Williamson’s ability to draw a crowd couldn’t be more apparent.
Shortly after his pregame warmup, a contingent of fans bustled down to where he would sign some autographs.
Williamson showed his versatility and how he can be effective, even if teams play solid defense on him. Williamson scored 14 points, the lowest total for the first four games of his career after he returned from a torn lateral meniscus injury he suffered before the season. Williamson also grabbed a team-high nine rebounds in the Pelicans’ 125-111 win against the Cavaliers.
Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said the Cavs stuck with Williamson, but at the same time he credited Williamson’s unselfishness.
“He’s not going to go and force shots or anything like that,” Gentry said. “That being said, he did have 14 points and nine rebounds. Anybody else, you would say that that’s a pretty doggone good game.”
A player who excels in the paint, Williamson scored all of his points in the lane – but he did so with some resistance. He shot 53.8% from the field, his lowest percentage so far.
The Cavs sealed areas such as the foul line and around the low block. These are areas where Williamson thrives because he can use his quickness and athleticism to blow by defenders.
Tristan Thompson began the game defending Williamson, and he didn’t let him create position around the post, something that Williamson does well.
But as the Cavs took away some easy opportunities, Williamson’s unselfishness came out.
“For me it’s just to go out there and take what they give me,” Williamson said. “They weren’t really giving me much, so just create for my teammates and it worked in our favor.”
The Cavs struggled to defend Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday, a pair that combined for 52 points.
Ingram, who scored 24 points and made all four of his 3-pointers, said he thought Williamson was tired. Williamson played 30 minutes, the most he’s played so far.
“It gets pretty hard to take big fella out of the game and keep him from going downhill,” Ingram said. “He’s so strong and knows how to use his body.”
That difficulty in guarding him showed on plays where Williamson tried to spin away from defenders in the post for potential lobs.
On one play in the second quarter, Williamson tried to spin out of the post for a lob, but John Henson was situated low in the key to take away a potential alley-oop. Since Henson had to help hard, the Cavs gave up the weakside play to Jaxson Hayes, but Henson recovered and prevented a bucket.
Another play in the second consisted of Alfonzo McKinnie essentially defending Williamson’s spin. McKinnie was taking away the jump, and while Williamson did jump, the play went awry and didn’t result in a bucket. Williamson fell down onto McKinnie, and he was subbed out after the play.
Despite the low post being defended well, Williamson still scored on some post ups and hustled around the basket.
The Cavs contained Williamson to an extent, but he still had an effect on the game, nearly having a double-double. It just shows how he doesn’t need to score a bunch of points for the Pelicans to win. They are 2-2 since he began playing.
He has a showdown on Friday with Memphis and fellow rookie and former AAU teammate Ja Morant, but he’s not focused on the one-on-one matchup.
“I don’t really look at one-on-one battles,” Williamson said. “My mindset is to go in there, like I say every time, whatever my team needs me to do, I’m going to go out there and try to do it so we can get the win.”