Zion Williamson, the star forward of the New Orleans Pelicans, had a stellar performance in his team’s 111-104 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday night in the season-opener for both teams. Williamson scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while shooting 10 of 14 from the field. He also added four assists, two steals, and a block in 34 minutes of action.
Williamson, who missed 53 games last season due to various injuries, showed no signs of rust or discomfort in his right foot, which he had bruised in a previous game. He was listed as available for the game after being questionable earlier in the day. He said he felt good and was ready to play.
“I’m just happy to be back on the court with my teammates,” Williamson said. “I love this game and I love playing with these guys. We have a lot of potential and we want to show it this season.”
Williamson was especially dominant in the fourth quarter, when he scored 12 of his points and helped the Pelicans fend off a late rally by the Grizzlies. He displayed his trademark explosiveness, agility, and strength, as he attacked the rim with ease and finished through contact. He also showed some improvement in his outside shooting, as he made one of his two attempts from beyond the arc.
“He’s a special player,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said of Williamson. “He’s a force of nature. He can do so many things on the court and he’s still getting better every day. He’s a joy to coach and a joy to watch.”
Williamson’s performance was complemented by CJ McCollum, who led the Pelicans with 24 points on 8 of 16 shooting, including 6 of 11 from three-point range. McCollum, who was acquired by the Pelicans in a blockbuster trade with the Portland Trail Blazers in the offseason, made his debut for his new team and impressed with his scoring and playmaking abilities.
“I felt great out there,” McCollum said. “I’m excited to be part of this team and this city. I think we have a lot of talent and chemistry. We played hard and we played together. We got a big win on the road against a tough team.”
The Pelicans also got contributions from Brandon Ingram, who had 19 points and six assists, and Jonas Valanciunas, who had a double-double of 12 points and 12 rebounds. The Pelicans shot 48.8% from the field and 40% from three-point range, while holding the Grizzlies to 41.4% and 28% respectively.
The Grizzlies were without their star point guard Ja Morant, who is serving a 25-game suspension for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy. They were led by Desmond Bane, who had a career-high 31 points on 11 of 18 shooting, including 7 of 12 from three-point range. Marcus Smart and Xavier Tillman added 17 points each for the Grizzlies, who cut a 16-point deficit to four in the final minutes but could not complete the comeback.
“We fought hard but we came up short,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We missed Ja a lot tonight. He’s our leader and our best player. But we have to find ways to win without him. We have to play better defense and execute better on offense.”
The Pelicans will host the New York Knicks on Saturday, while the Grizzlies will host the Denver Nuggets on Friday.