NEW ORLEANS — It was already the Zion Williamson Show going into the fourth quarter, but the Pelicans star decided to put an exclamation point on his most complete performance of the season.
After leading Wednesday’s game against the Toronto Raptors by as much as 31 points in the third quarter, New Orleans’ momentum gradually slipped away. The lead dropped to 11 with five minutes remaining.
在周三对阵多伦多猛龙队的比赛中，在第三节领先多达 31 分后，新奥尔良的势头逐渐消散。比赛还剩 5 分钟时，领先优势只有 11 分。
Then, Zion threw on his Superman cape.
He started by swatting a Pascal Siakam shot at the rim that would’ve cut the Pelicans’ lead to single digits. He followed it up by driving around two defenders and soaring past another as he threw down a ferocious double-clutch dunk. A few seconds later, he jumped in front of an errant Toronto pass and casually drove down the court for a layup that all but put the game away.
Once the Raptors finally called a timeout, Williamson waved his arms to the Smoothie King Center crowd, acknowledging what may have been the loudest roar of the season. It was a celebration for the incredible 26-second sequence that very few players can emulate.
But it was also an appreciation of something bigger. The real Zion Williamson is finally back, and he’s just as terrifying as we anticipated.
“I told him tonight in the locker room that he was a monster. He carried us. He continued to make the right plays over and over again,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. “He was flying around on both ends of the floor … It’s just impressive. Impressive to see.”
猛龙队最终宣布暂停后，威廉姆森向球馆的球迷挥舞着手臂，我承认这可能是本赛季最响亮的欢呼。这是对极少数球员能做出的令人难以置信的 26 秒进攻。
By the end of the night, Williamson accumulated 33 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, four steals and two blocks in a wire-to-wire 126-108 victory. This came one game after he put up 23 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in Monday’s win against Oklahoma City.
He made sure the Raptors felt his presence every minute he was on the floor. Toronto is known for having long, disruptive defenders at every position, but none of them could match Zion’s physicality and explosiveness.
The moment was even more significant because it was the second straight New Orleans victory without Brandon Ingram (toe injury) and CJ McCollum (reconditioning after return from health and safety protocols). With his running mates out, Williamson knew he had to do more than just put up big numbers. He had to lead, just as he did against Oklahoma City on Monday.
截至当晚比赛结束，威廉姆森得到 33 分、10 个篮板、5 次助攻、4 次抢断和 2 次盖帽，以 126-108 的比分带队获胜。在上一场战胜俄克拉荷马雷霆的比赛中拿下 23 分、8 个篮板和 8 次助攻。
He did just that on Wednesday against a higher quality opponent in the Raptors. Even as Williamson controlled the game on offense, his defensive energy is what most inspired his teammates. He got a few crazy blocks. He played in the passing lanes. He crashed the boards. He showed he was willing to do whatever it took to win. It was easily the best two-way game he’s had this season, and it’s in the conversation for the most well-rounded game he’s ever played as a pro.
Naturally, his teammates followed his example.
“He was a monster today. It was probably one of his best all-around games that I’ve seen,” said Pelicans forward Trey Murphy. “I’m super proud of him and the work that he’s put in. I know you guys criticize him a lot on his defense. Hopefully, he got more than a B+ today.”
The criticism was never about Williamson being an incapable defender, or even that he would always be a consistent liability that opponents can always target. The main issue that had to be addressed was his mindset. So many of his defensive issues could be easily remedied if he just brought consistent energy and mental focus on defense. Wednesday night proved that Williamson has everything it takes to be a great defender when he’s locked in and bringing the same fire on that end as he does when the ball is in his hands.
Remember when teams were targeting Williamson on switches so they could attack him one-on-one? He wasn’t letting that happen against Toronto.
Remember when he wouldn’t consistently make the second or third effort off the ball to help his teammates and get back out to shooters? He was flying around all over the place against the Raptors.
Remember when he’d get caught out of position from time to time because he was jogging back on defense? He was more like a man possessed on Wednesday.
These are basic principles. But when exceptional players do basic things consistently, they can have an outsized effect on the rest of the team. That’s precisely what Williamson did on Wednesday.
“I felt like I was moving my feet very well,” Williamson said. … “I feel like collectively, as a group, we just played very well on defense.”
“He did it on both ends,” Green added. “We know his athleticism offensively is impressive. But to get some of those blocks, to grab the rebound and take it full court, to get to the basket and get to the foul line. Those are things that great players do.”
With Ingram and McCollum sidelined the last two games, Williamson has also taken on a more prominent offensive playmaking role. Williamson has to fight through double teams no matter who’s in the lineup with him, but he also knows they’ll come at an even higher frequency when he doesn’t have Ingram and McCollum to keep defenses honest. His court vision has always been underrated, and it’s continued to improve as he’s played more games.
Without his two co-stars, Zion has 13 assists over the last two games. He’s playing fast to make it tougher for teams to double him, but he’s not rushing through his progressions. He’s remaining patient with his reads, but he’s not allowing the offense to stagnate.
在没有他的两位搭档的情况下，锡安在过去两场比赛中有 13 次助攻。他打得很快，让对手更难包夹他，但他并没有匆忙完成自己的进步。他对自己的比赛阅读保持耐心，但他不会让进攻停滞不前。
Williamson has always taken pride in how his stepfather, Lee Anderson, raised him to be a point guard since childhood. He’s displayed the best versions of “Point Zion” over the last two games.
That’s unlocked some new options for the Pelicans’ offense. With so many pieces shuffling in and out of the lineup, finding the right approach on offense that uplifts everyone has been an ongoing process for Green and his coaching staff. At times, the product has leaned more heavily towards last year’s offense, with Ingram and McCollum at the forefront. In other moments, Williamson has been allowed to flourish fully.
These past two games have illustrated that this team is most dangerous when Williamson is given freedom to control the ball from the perimeter and attack opponents. It keeps him heavily involved, forces defenses to collapse on him and creates easy looks for everyone else on the court. While Ingram and McCollum are outstanding offensive talents, no one’s quite like Zion. The effect he has on defenses and the amount of help they have to send to slow him down is almost laughable at times.
Until Green is able to use a more consistent rotation, there will be some hiccups as New Orleans tries to find its groove. But when Williamson is playing like this, the smartest thing any coach could do is get out of his way and let him cook.
“When you have players like BI and CJ out, you’ve got to pick up where they affect the game,” Williamson said. “I just want to thank Coach (Green) for trusting me to be myself, and the rest of the coaching staff and my teammates. If they don’t trust me, it may look a little different for me.”
Wednesday’s victory improved the Pelicans’ record to 13-8. Despite the constant changes to the lineup and injuries to various pieces of the rotation, New Orleans is five games over .500 for the first time since 2017-18. That figures speak to the job Green has done to establish a winning culture within the organization and his team’s willingness to bring the fight every time the players step on the floor.
“当像 BI 和 CJ 这样的球员缺阵时，你必须找出他们影响比赛的地方，”威廉姆森说。“我只想感谢教练（格林）信任我，以及其他教练组和我的队友。如果他们不信任我，对我来说可能会有点不同。”
周三的胜利将鹈鹕队的战绩提高到 13-8。尽管阵容不断变化，轮换阵容的各个位置都有受伤球员，但新奥尔良自 2017-18 赛季以来战绩首次超过超过五成。这些数字证明了格林以及他的团队在球队内建立胜利文化所做的工作。
It also helps to have so much talent spread throughout the roster. The Pelicans’ depth has proven to be just as potent as many anticipated coming into the year, and it will continue to grow as young players like Murphy and rookie Dyson Daniels shine.
It’s also one of the biggest luxuries for Williamson’s own development. He hasn’t quite approached his pre-injury self until recently, having struggled to find a consistent groove within the offense when everyone is healthy. With so many Pelicans players suffering injuries, Williamson hasn’t received as much time to reacclimate and find chemistry with his new teammates.
Still, none of those obstacles have stopped this team from grabbing sole possession of the No. 3 spot in the West, two games behind the top-seeded Phoenix Suns, with a +5.9 net rating that’s good for fourth in the NBA. The Pelicans have been a good team through the first 21 games of the season, even though they’ve had every excuse to stumble out the gates like they’ve done so many times over the past decade.
If Zion is also starting to kick it into fifth gear, this team could become even more intimidating. It has the depth, camaraderie and versatility. Most importantly, the Pelicans have the one guy no one has an answer for when he’s playing the way he did Wednesday.
“We’ve got a lot of depth on this team. We are a special team,” Williamson said. “As the season goes on, the world will get to see that. We’ll learn from each other. We’ll figure it out.”
尽管如此，这些障碍都没有阻止这支球队独占西部第三的位置，落后第一的菲尼克斯太阳队两场比赛，净胜分为 +5.9，在NBA排名第四。在本赛季的前 21 场比赛中，鹈鹕队一直是一支优秀的球队，尽管他们有充分的理由像过去十年中多次那样跌跌撞撞地跌出季后赛。