LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Zion Williamson said he felt “alive again” after getting a chance to help his team close out a game.
Brandon Ingram scored 24 points, Williamson added 23 points and matched his career high with five assists in his most extensive playing time since the NBA restart, and the New Orleans Pelicans got a much-needed 109-99 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night.
“My competitive spirit was there and I’m glad Coach and the whole team trusted me to finish the game out,” Williamson said.
After being limited to a combined 29 minutes in his first two games back, Williamson played 25 minutes, although he appeared to get fatigued when he didn’t hustle back on defense and was taken out with 6 minutes to play. But he returned a short time later and helped the Pelicans close on a 12-6 run.
“The medical guys thought that he was able to go back in and play,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. ”… He played really good down the stretch.”
The game also included another Williamson shoe incident.
Williamson drove the lane in the third quarter and landed awkwardly, losing his left shoe. However, the big man quickly put the shoe back on and remained in the game. It brought back memories of when the then-Duke freshman sensation injured his knee in February 2019 when his foot ripped through the side of his shoe as he attempted to plant his foot.
Ingram was solid late, making a pair of jumpers including a transition 3 to help hold off the Grizzlies.
Jaren Jackson Jr. had 22 points for the Grizzlies, who fell to 0-3 since the NBA restart. Ja Morant struggled from the field, finishing with 11 points on 5-of-21 shooting.
“Our offense has got to be better,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “… If we play a little better on the offensive end I think we will be in a good spot.”
After the game, Morant tweeted, “instead of giving up on the face of adversity, you should face it with a positive attitude & smile.”
Lonzo Ball had called it a “must-win game” after the Pelicans lost their first two games since the restart, dropping them to 11th place in the Western Conference standings.
Now they’re 2 1/2 games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies. The ninth-place team can qualify for a play-in matchup against the eighth-place team as long as it is within four games. The Pelicans still need to move past the Spurs and Trail Blazers to get to ninth place.
“It gives us a start, knowing that we have something to build on,” Williamson said. “Those two losses were bad but they’re both a learning experience. So this win gives us a start.”
Grizzlies: Morant took a knee to the groin as he attempted to defend Ball, who was elevating as he drove to the basket. Morant remained in the game after spending about a minute on the floor. … Grayson Allen had another impressive night with 17 points off the bench on five 3-pointers.
Pelicans: Made just 24 of 39 free throws. Even JJ Redick, a 91 percent free throw shooter, missed back-to-back free throws at one point.
After the game, former AAU teammates Williamson and Morant shared an embrace. Morant retweeted a video of the hug and wrote, “being from SC (South Carolina) you don’t see this often. Let’s continue to stay solid & be a great role model to the people who look up to us.”
Grizzlies: Play Utah on Wednesday.
Pelicans: Play Sacramento on Thursday.
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