Zion Williamson scores 34, Pelicans top Clippers 112-104 to tighten race for No. 4 seed


NEW ORLEANS — Zion Williamson snagged an inbound pass in the back court with just less than 4 seconds remaining in the third quarter, embarked on a sprinting end-to-end dribble and sank a driving floater just as the horn sounded.

The crowd roared wildly, and so did Williamson, who left little doubt about his intent to control the outcome of a potentially pivotal contest with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Williamson scored 34 points, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat Los Angeles 112-104 on Friday night, pulling within two games of the Clippers for the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference.

“It’s just getting to that part of the season,” said Williamson, who was drafted first overall in 2019 with the hope that he could carry the Pelicans through such games, but hasn’t previously had a chance to do so.

“Just trying to let my teammates know, ‘I’m here. I with y’all,’” Williamson added. “Whether it’s diving on the floor on defense, passing or scoring.”

New Orleans won its season series with the Clippers, 3-1. The fourth and fifth seeds meet in the first round of the NBA playoffs, and the Pelicans would own the regular-season, head-to-head tiebreaker over the Clippers if it came to that in mid-April.

Williamson was sidelined by various injuries for most of his first four NBA seasons, including the stretch runs of the previous two campaigns, when New Orleans was making a push to secure a Western Conference play-in spot.

This is the most meaningful basketball Williamson has played, and it appears to be fueling him.

“It’s great to have him on the floor, playing as well as he’s playing,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said.

Green also was gratified by New Orleans’ defensive play, exemplified by Herb Jones’ block of Paul George’s 3-point attempt, which Jones converted into a break-away basket.

“That block was incredible. I didn’t even know he could get to it,” Green said. “It looked like he had a wide-open 3 and Herb comes out of nowhere.”

Spending most of the game as New Orleans’ primary ball-handler, Williamson initiated the Pelicans’ offense and ultimately took over the game, scoring time after time on explosive moves to the hoop that were both powerful and shifty.

“All three games they’ve won this year (in the series), he dominated,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said. “He always takes over the game down the stretch.”

Trey Murphy III scored 14 points and Brandon Ingram 13 for New Orleans, which made five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to keep the Clippers at bay.

The Pelicans also outscored the Clippers 58-36 in the paint, with Williamson being a big reason for that.

George scored 26 points and Kawhi Leonard had 23 for Los Angeles, which played without James Harden (left shoulder strain) for a second straight game. Harden has averaged 17.4 points this season.

“We did some good things to come back and make it a game but our margin for error was very slim at that point,” Lue said. “I like our fight. I like the way we competed. We just came up short.”

Norman Powell scored 15 for the Clippers, the 51st time in his 65 games played this season that he’s had at least 10 points coming off the bench. But he appeared to be hurt after diving for a loose ball in the fourth quarter, throwing his shoe in disgust as he limped toward the bench.

The Clippers were as close as 100-96 after Ivica Zubac’s inside basket with 6:21 left. But the Pelicans did not allow the game to get any tighter. Williamson responded with a short hook shot, Ingram hit a 3 and Larry Nance Jr., who had 12 points, scored two clutch baskets inside before Williamson finished it off with a driving layup.

UP NEXT

Clippers: Host Atlanta on Sunday night.

Pelicans: Host the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday night.

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AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/NBA



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