After watching New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson bowl over and barrel through his team on his way to 38 points — and 18 free throws — Saturday night, Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle was at a loss for how to guard him.
“He’s an unusual force and obviously a great player,” Carlisle said after the visiting Mavs fell 112-103. “We’ll have to figure something a little better out next time, but he’s doing this to everybody. We did have some very good possessions guarding him, but he was a beast.
“It presents huge challenges for the defense and for officials. He is just creating collisions out there. This is a Shaquille O’Neal-type force of nature with a point guard skill set.”
Williamson, fresh off a career-high 39 points in Friday night’s home loss to the Denver Nuggets, followed with 38 points on 13-of-20 shooting to go along with six assists and five rebounds. Down the stretch, the Pelicans leaned into Williamson even more.
He scored or assisted on the Pelicans’ final 14 points on Saturday, all in the final 2:47, and helped the Pelicans take a 98-95 lead at that point and put the game away.
“I want to make the best play that’s going to help us win,” Williamson said. “Sometimes, that’s knowing when to shoot it and when not to shoot it. When to make the pass and when not to make the pass. I just want to win. It’s as simple as that.”
New Orleans could not put the game away on Friday, eventually falling to the Nuggets. Williamson said that contest, and the loss that came with it, played a “tiny part” in his aggressiveness in Saturday’s fourth quarter but that, ultimately, it was a new game.
As Williamson handles the ball more and more, his teammates are starting to see him develop into someone who can take over games in the final minutes.
“The ability to go in there and know the angles of the basket and know the angles of everything around the rim, it’s really beautiful,” Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram said. “To be as efficient as he is and go to the rim and sometimes get fouled and play through it, it’s beautiful to see.”
Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker said he isn’t surprised that Williamson is making the right reads, because he has seen it happen time and time again this season.
“He’s a great player and very unselfish,” Alexander-Walker said. “He made the winning plays tonight.”
When he wasn’t dishing it off, Williamson was getting to the line frequently. He had season highs with 12 free throws made and 18 free throw attempts.
Carlisle said defending Williamson has become “a real challenge.”
“You’ve got to have a lot of courage to stand in there and get run over by that guy, because he’s coming at you fast,” Carlisle said. “He’s coming at you, like, it’s not just an Amtrak. It’s an Acela. It’s the fast one that doesn’t stop. It doesn’t stop in Westport or wherever. It just goes — phew! — straight to New York City. It’s something else.”
Saturday’s outing was Williamson’s second consecutive game with at least 35 points, five rebounds and five assists, joining Anthony Davis as the only players in franchise history to pull that off in back-to-back games.
Williamson became the eighth player in the shot clock era (since 1954-55) to have at least 75 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists while shooting over 70% from the field in a two-game span, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it was Williamson’s 11th career game with at least 30 points while shooting 60% or better from the field, breaking a tie with LeBron James for the most in NBA history prior to a player’s 21st birthday.
Williamson also became the first player since O’Neal in 1995-96 to have four straight games with 25 points while shooting 65% or better.
But while all the accolades and comparisons are nice, Williamson made it clear whom he wants to be like.
“It’s an honor to hear my name in those categories,” Williamson said, “but I am who I am.”