All eyes were on the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans Wednesday night for the most anticipated NBA debut since LeBron James entered the league out of high school in 2003.
The generational talent and No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, Zion Williamson, made his professional debut after missing nearly 13 weeks after undergoing surgery to repair his meniscus in his right knee.
After a slow start that saw Williamson only put up two points in the first half in less than ten minutes of game action, the 19-year-old phenom came alive in the fourth quarter, scoring 17 straight points for the Pelicans, including four three-pointers, in a wild 3 minute and 8 second-long stretch.
The Pelicans limited Williamson’s playing time to spurts of four-minute stretches during the first three quarters but then were forced to leave him in for an extended period when he absolutely went off and brought down the house at the Smoothie King Center.
You can watch the full electric fourth-quarter stretch where Williamson was on fire, below:
Williamson finished the night with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting and went 4-for-4 from three-point range. The dynamic rookie also added seven rebounds and three assists.
The Pelicans trailed by 12 points going into the fourth quarter but Zion’s one-man show brought them all the way back and gave them a brief lead. Williamson was taken out of the game with 5:23 left and would not return, as the team was watching his minutes played in his first game back from injury.
The Spurs would end up pulling away late in the fourth, holding on for a 121-117 win, but no one is going to be talking about the game result tomorrow.
Williamson took the college basketball world by storm in his lone season with the Duke Blue Devils last year, averaging 22.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. The freshman garnered national attention with his highlight-reel dunks and explosive play that led Duke to an Elite 8 appearance in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
The Pelicans have gotten their feet under them after starting the season 7-23 without their rookie phenom, winning 10 of their last 14 games coming into Wednesday night. After Wednesday’s loss, New Orleans sits in 12th in the Western Conference but is only 4 games behind the Spurs for the eighth and final playoff spot.
Now that Williamson is back, the Pelicans will become a focal point of attention around the league. Wednesday’s game against the Spurs was picked up by ESPN once news of Williamson’s return became public, bumping the previously scheduled Denver Nuggets vs. Houston Rockets game. The Pelicans will be featured on national TV a few times over the next couple weeks – here’s a look at the schedule of those marquee games, which includes a matchup with James Harden, Russell Westbrook and the Houston Rockets prior to the Super Bowl on Feb. 2:
Sunday, January 26
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Boston Celtics
Time: 6 p.m. ET
Sunday, February 2 (Super Bowl Sunday)
New Orleans Pelicans at Houston Rockets
Time: 2 p.m. ET
Tuesday, February 4
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Zion Williamson Returning From ‘Frustrating’ Injury
Zion Williamson’s professional career didn’t get off to the grandeur start that everyone envisioned back when the Pelicans selected him No. 1 overall in last June’s NBA Draft.
The 19-year-old (yes, we have to keep reminding ourselves that Williamson is only 19) took a major step backward and was forced into rehab mode just prior to the tip-off of the 2019-20 season when he had knee surgery in October.
Williamson, who spent the last three months rehabbing, spoke on Tuesday at a news conference about how the last few months have been trying and frustrating for the 6-foot-6, 284-pound forward.
“There’s a lot of times when I wanted to punch a wall or kick chairs because it’s frustrating,” Williamson said.
“To not be able to move your body the way you want to, not to make any athletic movements; I mean, it’s tough. Especially because I’m 19 and I haven’t even played my first NBA game. It was tough but I battled through it.”
Before injuring his knee, Williamson was a beast right out of the gate in the preseason, where he averaged 23.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in four games.
Williamson was eager to take the court in front of what was expected to be a sellout crowd in New Orleans on Wednesday night.
“Honestly, I don’t know if I’m going to get sleep,” Williamson told reporters on Tuesday. “I’ll be too excited thinking about my first NBA game.”