- Zion Williamson asked New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry to “leave me in” down the stretch of his NBA debut because “I can win the game for this team.”
- The Pelicans trailed by eight in the fourth quarter before he exploded for 17 points in a three-minute span.
- Pelicans medical staff members forced Gentry to adhere to Williamson’s strict minutes restriction in the final minutes of the game, and New Orleans went on to lose 121-117.
- NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo advised the young star to “have patience, work hard, and make sure you’re healthy.”
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Zion Williamson has absolutely mystified the basketball world.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft shined in his NBA debut Wednesday night, dropping a team-high 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting and a perfect 4-for-4 clip from beyond the arc in just 18 minutes on the floor.
While its understandable that the New Orleans Pelicans would proceed with caution in reintroducing their 6-foot-6, 285-pound crown jewel to the hardwood after a meniscus tear kept him sidelined for the first few months of his rookie season, many fans wanted to see more of the 19-year-old in the Pelicans’ 121-117 loss to the San Antonio Spurs.
And Williamson himself was chief among them.
According to ESPN’s Marc J. Spears, Williamson told New Orleans head coach Alvin Gentry to “leave me in” down the stretch of Wednesday night’s game. After a quiet first three quarters, the former Duke standout erupted for 17 points in a sensational three-minute span to give the Pelicans their first lead of the second half. And even though New Orleans had a chance to steal the victory thanks to Williamson’s red-hot streak, Gentry was forced to sub him out in the final minutes of the contest.
“Zion said ‘Coach, I can win the game for this team — leave me in,'” Spears said on SportsCenter Wednesday night. “And [Gentry] said, ‘Trust me, you’re preaching to the choir, man.'”
Gentry told Spears that he squabbled with members of the Pelicans’ medical staff who wanted Williamson to take a seat in the midst of his fourth-quarter outburst. The fifth-year head coach pleaded for another two minutes before the trainers won out and forced him to adhere to Williamson’s strict minutes restriction.
“Gentry was disappointed,” Spears said.
After the game, Williamson expressed similar frustration.
“It’s very hard,” Williamson said. “I’m 19. Honestly, in that moment, I’m not thinking about longevity — I’m thinking about winning that game. So it was very tough.”
Although Williamson and his coach may have been tempted to rush back to full speed, one of the premier talents in the NBA advised the young star to take things slowly.
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“I’m really excited for him. I’m really happy that he was able to get back out there and make his debut,” Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo said, according to a press release from NBA Paris. “Obviously he’s a tough kid and the only advice I would give to him is to have patience, work hard, and make sure you’re healthy.”
“I saw some highlights and he had some problems with his knee – don’t rush!” the 2020 NBA MVP frontrunner said. “Don’t rush the process. He’s going to be a beast, the whole league knows you’re going to be a beast. Just take it step by step day by day and be healthy and when you come back help your team win and dominate the league.”
Still, the 2019 Wooden Award winner insisted that he felt physically “fine” despite missing multiple months of gameplay prior to Wednesday night’s coming out party.
“Throughout that long rehab process, they just prepared my body to go out there,” Williamson said.
The Pelicans currently sit four games out of the eighth seed in the Western Conference standings. They’ll host the Denver Nuggets Friday night in New Orleans with the hopes of converting their latest asset’s contributions on the floor into his first win as a Pelican.
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