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Pelicans 140, Timberwolves 136: You Don’t Mess With the Zion

An epic performance from Zion Williamson ends the Timberwolves’ five-game winning streak in overtime.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Minnesota Timberwolves Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Zion Williamson is one of one.

The Pelicans forward did it all for a team desperately in need of a win to crawl back into the Western Conference playoff race. He scored 37 points on 14/17 shooting (82.3%) and 9/15 from the free throw line, to go along with nine rebounds and a team-high eight assists.

Down the stretch of the fourth quarter, Minnesota had no answers for him in the screen and roll game. The Wolves tried to hedge, cut him off before approaching the screen, doubling him, and none of it worked. The second he gets around the corner, the best you can do is hope he misses or that the officials don’t call a foul when he jumps into your big defender’s body.

Unfortunately for the Wolves, neither happened tonight. He fouled Jaden McDaniels out in regulation before Karl-Anthony Towns entered overtime with five personal fouls, which Williamson took full advantage of. He attacked as the ball-handler in PnR KAT and Naz Reid, who also had five fouls entering OT, and fouled out both of them in a span of 24 seconds on ferocious drives that sealed the game for New Orleans.

When Zion wasn’t killing the Wolves defense, he was drawing defenders in and kicking out to Lonzo Ball beyond the arc, who scored a career-high 33 points on a career-high eight 3s tonight. Ball moved exceptionally well off the ball, flowing into empty space and making himself available on the unloaded side of the floor, which made it easier for Zion to find him.

After a sizzling first half, Anthony Edwards just couldn’t keep pace with the first-time All-Star; Edwards scored 19 of his 29 in the first 24 minutes before going silent in the third quarter. His energy came roaring back early in the fourth quarter, though, headlining a key 7-0 Wolves run that gave Minnesota a seven-point lead, 114-107, with 6:12 left. He threw down a huge alley-oop to get it rolling, getting so high his elbow hit the backboard on the followthrough.

On the heels of that run, however, the Wolves offense went dormant. The Wolves scored just nine points in rest of regulation — with their closing five on the floor — allowing the Pelicans to crawl back into it. New Orleans scored at least one point on their final seven possessions to tie things up heading into overtime, where Zion just took over.

Towns was very quiet in the first half before coming alive in the third quarter with a few step-back jumpers and strong takes that got him to the free throw line. In a game where his primary defender was Willy Hernangomez, Juancho’s brother, Towns was nowhere near as aggressive as he should’ve been. Granted, Ant and D-Lo came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, but he’s an All-NBA caliber player who doesn’t assert himself like he needs to when he has a terrific matchup. Conversely, Zion relentlessly took it right at Jarred Vanderbilt, Reid, Towns, McDaniels and Josh Okogie tonight, shooting 82.3% from the floor.

KAT did finish with 28 points on 8/19 shooting and 4/9 from 3, made all eight attempts from the free throw line and had a strong 14-rebound night, but those gaudy numbers could’ve (and should’ve) been even greater than they were tonight, simply because his scoring talent is too great for him to not want to punish his matchup every time he touches the ball.

D’Angelo Russell had a season-high 11 dimes tonight, including this beauty to Juancho Hernangomez on a nice baseline cut to the cup for two.

Russell struggled to get anything going from deep, shooting just 1/12, his worst shooting night from 3 this season. He was 7/10 from 2, which is an encouraging sign for a player who needs to put pressure on the defense getting down hill in PnR and in hand-off actions. The flashes of him taking an even bigger leap are all there, but he just has to do it consistently for entire games.

Reid turned in a nice offensive night, largely fueled by three massive 3s he made to get give the Wolves a lead early in the fourth. He didn’t get to the line like he usually does, but still put pressure on the rim and had a few hockey assist passes that were key in setting up other players for easy buckets.

Vanderbilt gave good effort defensively and was largely responsible for Zion committing a game-high seven turnovers. JV moved his feet well and did a good job staying in front of Zion, but ultimately couldn’t force Zion to change directions into the teeth of the defense more often than he did.

Ricky Rubio also did a great job on the defensive end tonight, as he had six steals, which largely came by defending hand-offs and screen and pops. He had a few steals that directly led to Ant dunks in transition that helped get him going in the second and fourth quarters.

After holding Brandon Ingram to six points on 2/7 shooting in the first half, Okogie played just three minutes in the second half before being pulled in favor of Reid to try and get a bigger body on Zion. Okogie had four points, three assists, a steal and was a +6 in 17 minutes.

The Timberwolves will next play on Wednesday night against Memphis here at Target Center, which is a make-up game for the matchup on January 15th that was postponed in accordance with the league’s health and safety protocols.

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