NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Zion Williamson even surprised himself when he vaulted upward to snare an overthrown alley-oop lob with his left hand, switched the ball to his right hand and laid it in before tumbling across the baseline.
“It was one of those things where I just tried to make something of it, hope somebody gets the rebound,” Williamson began before turning his answer into a joke at the expense of teammate E’Twaun Moore. “I was shocked it went in. But my biggest shock of the night, I think, is when E’Twaun dunked. He’s definitely getting drug tested.”
Williamson scored 24 points in a little less than 29 minutes, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Memphis Grizzlies 139-111 on Friday night in the first matchup this season between the NBA’s top two draft picks.
“His activity was really good and he’s still in the learning stages,” said Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, who was wet from a locker room celebration honoring the coach’s 500th career victory. “He really tries extremely hard not to get in anybody’s way.”
Williamson was playing in just his fifth game since completing a three-month rehabilitation from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. He converted four alley-oop lobs into baskets, three of them on dunks. He also drove the baseline for a twisting two-handed dunk and put back several offensive rebounds.
Newly selected All-Star Brandon Ingram scored 20 and Lonzo Ball hit five 3-pointers on seven attempts in his 19-point night for the Pelicans, who won their third straight while ending Memphis’ four-game winning streak.
Jrue Holiday added 18 points for New Orleans, which pulled to four games behind the Grizzlies for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot with 33 games remaining.
Jonas Valanciunas had 18 points for Memphis before fouling out with 8:11 remaining. Grizzlies rookie Ja Morant, taken second overall behind Williamson in last June’s draft, scored 16 points.
“They played great and we weren’t that good,” said Grizzlies coach Tyler Jenkins, whose team was missing forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and guard Marco Guduric because of one-game suspensions for leaving the bench during an altercation against the New York Knicks in Memphis’ previous game.
“We can do a better job guarding one-on-one regardless of who we have out there,” Jenkins said. “Give (the Pelicans) credit. They played with great force.”
Little went wrong for the Pelicans, who shot 53.7%, made 15 3s and led by as many as 32 points in the fourth quarter.
Grizzlies: In addition the the Jackson and Guduric suspensions, Memphis’s lineup was thinned further by the absence of forward Brandon Clarke, who was ruled out with a sore hip before the game. Clarke joined guard Grayson Allen (hip) and Bruno Caboclo (knee) as inactive. … Forward Solomon Hill, who played the previous three seasons for New Orleans, got his third start of the season for Memphis and had six points, two rebounds and an assist in 25:42. …. Missed 11 of 26 free throws. … Jae Crowder scored 15 points, Kyle Anderson 14 and Josh Jackson 13. Dillon Brooks and Tyus Jones each scored 10.
Pelicans: Redick scored 16 points and Josh Hart 11, while Moore and Nicolo Melli each scored 10. … Derrick Favors had 10 rebounds. … Outrebounded Memphis 57-34, turning 16 offensive rebounds into 20 second-chance points.
Williamson and Morant, who are both from South Carolina and former AAU teammates, exchanged jerseys after the game.
“We never saw each other being the Nos. 1 and 2 pick, playing against each other (in the NBA) and swapping jerseys, Williamson said. “You can’t imagine stuff like that so it was a great moment.”
Both were involved in one of Williamson’s early highlights. Holiday stole the ball from Morant, initiating a fast break that led to Williamson throwing down an alley-oop lob from Ball.
Later, Ball’s turnover led to Morant’s soaring two-handed dunk off Brooks’ lob.
New Orleans outscored Memphis by 25 while Williamson was on the court, giving the celebrated rookie out of Duke the best plus-minus figure of any player in the game.
“With Zion on the court we’re a great basketball team, honestly,” Ball said. “We’re just happy to have him back.”
Grizzlies: Host Detroit on Monday night.
Pelicans: Visit Houston on Sunday.
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