The New Orleans Pelicans lost a heartbreaker 123-118 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the last game before the All-Star Break.
The Pelicans three-game win streak came to an end despite a career-high 32 points from rookie star Zion Williamson. Zion has set career highs in points in the last two games and has been everything he was advertised to be, but it wasn’t enough against a pesky and professional Thunder squad that always seemed to have an answer.
The Pelicans were unable to stop the Thunder pick-and-roll, as court general Chris Paul picked apart the New Orleans’ defense for 12 assists. He also added a few dagger three’s, as Paul has a knack for knowing when it is time for him to take over offensively.
It was a game of runs, with the Pelicans down by as many as 13 in the second half before rallying several times behind Williamson and some streaky shooting from J.J. Redick, who added 24 points in the losing effort.
It was a scrappy game for the Pelicans, who showed heart, but ultimately it exposed a few flaws that they will need to improve upon post All-Star break. Here are three takeaways from the Pelicans’ loss to the Thunder.
The Zion Effect
Williamson was a ton for the Pelicans tonight, pouring in 32 points, six rebounds, and one thunderous block. Zion was again a force in the paint, shooting 11-19 and adding 10 of 13 free throws. Williamson had his way with Steven Adams and was generally unstoppable when he got the ball down low.
The problem is once Williamson leaves the game the Pelicans are a completely different team. The offense is dynamic with Williamson on the floor, the ball moves and his presence is enough to open teammates for good shots. Every time Williamson left the game the Pelicans offense grew stagnant, there wasn’t as much ball movement or as many run-outs. Williamson is a game-changing force, but the Pelicans have to find a way to get buckets when he is off the floor.
Currently Zion is playing roughly the first seven minutes of the quarter and sitting the last five. Alvin Gentry may have to get more creative with his rotations so that Zion can close out quarters and get more run with Nicolo Melli and Redick, who spread the floor and give Williamson more room to operate.