NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Zion Williamson has recorded his first 30-point performance just nine games into his NBA career.
Williamson scored 31 points in barely 28 minutes on the court, and the New Orleans Pelicans used a dominant second half to defeat the Portland Trail Blazers 138-117 on Tuesday night.
“I expect to make an impact but I don’t expect to do nothing like this,” Williamson said in his usual, grinning, affable manner. “I just kind of look to come in, just kind of fit in, just not try to mess up, but my teammates and coaches are always pushing me.”
“I do hold myself to high expectations, but I think it’s just finding the line between reality and dreams,” Williamson added. “If my teammates find me, they find me. If not, just got to make another play, get the rebound and just play defense.”
Williamson used his 6-foot-6, 285-pound frame, quick feet and explosive vertical to have his way with every defender Portland tried against him. Williamson was either too strong, too fast, or both. He mixed spinning dribbles and sudden baseline drives into his usual arsenal of soaring transition dunks and tenacious putbacks. Six of his nine rebounds came on the offensive end.
“I don’t really think he’s comparable to anyone that I have seen,” Portland forward Carmelo Anthony said of Williamson. “Someone who is as powerful as that, who jumps like that … you can tell he’s getting better and getting a feel for the game.”
JJ Redick scored 20 for New Orleans, which trailed by as many as 16 in the first quarter before taking command en route to a third straight victory. Josh Hart’s 17 points included an alley-oop dunk set up by Williamson’s lob in transition.
“It’s kind of scary to see how good he is this early,” Hart said.
Jrue Holiday contributed 16 points and 10 assists for New Orleans, while Lonzo Ball added 10 points and 10 assists.
Portland star Damian Lillard scored 20 points — less than half of his 42-point average over his previous 10 games. But his playing time was limited in the fourth quarter when the Pelicans, who led by as many as 26, had put the game out of reach.
CJ McCollum had 20 points for the Trail Blazers, and Anthony finished with 18, but just four after halftime. Hassan Whiteside had 17 points and 14 rebounds.
Trail Blazers: Wenyen Gabriel had 12 points in 13:36 off the bench. … Anthony was assessed a technical foul in the second quarter for arguing with officials after he had been called for a foul on Williamson’s inside shot. Anthony’s face and Williamson’s arm appeared to make contact on the play. … Lillard was assessed a technical foul for comments to officials at the end of the first half.
Pelicans: All-Star wing player and leading scorer Brandon Ingram missed his second straight game with an ankle injury and is day to day. … Frank Jackson scored 13 points, and Nicolo Melli had 10. … New Orleans scored 35 fast-break points. … Have won 17 of 26 and trail Memphis, which currently holds the final Western Conference playoff spot, by 4 1/2 games with 28 to play.
Holiday was Lillard’s primary defender, but had help from big men coming out to the perimeter when Holiday had to run around screens.
Holiday “did about as good as you can do in any situation with Dame,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “Our bigs were sensational also. We just tried to always have somebody there when he was about to turn the corner.”
TURNING THE TIDE
Portland, which like New Orleans is chasing Memphis, looked primed to seize control with a 24-3 first-quarter run that began with a pair of turnaround jumpers by Anthony. McCollum hit a pair of 3s, Whiteside scored on a floater and a hook shot, Anthony dunked and Lillard added a driving layup while being fouled.
That put the Pelicans in a 31-15 hole, out of which they gradually climbed during the rest of the first half.
Williamson, who had 17 first-half points, helped fuel the comeback. His two-handed dunk of Holiday’s alley-oop lob cut Portland’s lead to 60-54. Hart and Jackson each hit 3s late in the second period. Holiday added a slashing transition layup through a crowd of converging defenders and Williamson’s free throw cut Portland’s lead to 65-63 at halftime.
New Orleans pushed in front in the third, when Hart scored 12 points on shots ranging from a pull-up in the lane, to a breakaway dunk after his steal, to a left-wing 3.
New Orleans scored 41 points in the period alone, leading by 21 when Redick hit his second 3 of the quarter to make it 104-83.
“We gave up a lot of transition. Some of it was them, some of it was us,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said, alluding to New Orleans’ 17 fast-break points in the third. “When we didn’t score, they were getting out and running.”
Trail Blazers: Visit Memphis on Wednesday night.
Pelicans: Host Oklahoma City on Thursday night.