CLEVELAND (AP) — Zion Williamson’s NBA road debut didn’t have much flash or any fireworks. It wasn’t a show, and that was just fine with the hyped rookie.
Check off another box.
Williamson scored 14 points — all inside — in his first pro game outside New Orleans and Jrue Holiday had 26, leading the Pelicans to a 125-111 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Tuesday night.
Playing in just his fourth game, Williamson added nine rebounds in 30 minutes, his most as a pro. He didn’t do anything spectacular or particularly crowd pleasing, but that hardly mattered to him or the Pelicans, who are just happy to have the big man on the floor.
“It was great,” Williamson said. “We got the win. The crowd’s energy was great.”
Brandon Ingram scored 24 and Nicolo Melli made two big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to slow Cleveland’s comeback.
Collin Sexton scored 24, rookie Kevin Porter Jr. 21 and Larry Nance Jr. had 17 points and 11 rebounds for the Cavs, who have lost eight of nine.
It was Cleveland’s first game at home since Kobe Bryant’s death, and Nance honored his former Lakers teammate by wearing No. 24 in the first half instead of his usual No. 22.
Williamson returned last week after missing the Pelicans’ first 43 games following right knee surgery, and the team’s medical staff is closely monitoring his playing time as he gets back into game shape.
Coach Alvin Gentry has grown tired of the talk about Williamson’s minutes, and they should no longer be a topic of conversation.
“He played 30 minutes,” Gentry said, “and most guys aren’t going to play more than 30 minutes anyway.”
The former Duke star didn’t score in the first quarter before he dropped consecutive layups in the second. Later, Williamson caught a pass on the block and was set to deliver a two-handed dunk, but Sexton blocked it from behind and then shot a glance at the heralded 19-year-old.
“He’s a good player, but he didn’t really beat us,” Sexton said. “It was Holiday and Brandon.”
Williamson smiled when Sexton’s block was mentioned.
“He got me that time.” Williamson said with a chuckle. “He got the best of me on that one. Hopefully, next time I get a different result.”
When the Cavs were cutting into the Pelicans’ double-digit lead in the fourth, Williamson grabbed offensive rebounds and made putbacks on consecutive possessions.
“Those were big baskets,” Gentry said. “He’s got great hands and if he gets a hold of the ball it’s his.”
Williamson’s first road game brought out Cleveland fans, who a year ago were hoping and praying to the basketball gods for the NBA draft lottery to go their way so they could get him.
There was a buzz inside Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse during early warmups as Williamson worked on post-up moves and drives. When he came off the floor, fans pushed forward to take his photo or beg for an autograph. Williamson signed a few jerseys before heading to the locker room escorted by security personnel.
Williamson is in high demand, and Gentry said that’s something he needs to monitor.
“One of the things he’s going to have to learn to do is to say no,” Gentry said. “I think that’s hard for him. There’s always a line of people outside every hotel, every restaurant he’s in. He’s going to have to be a little protective of his own private space sometime.”
Williamson said once the game starts, he’s able to ignore outside noise.
“During warmups, I hear it all because it’s funny,” he said. “During the game, its just natural that it gets blocked out. When I’m warming up, people say, ‘Zion, come over here. I can’t right now.'”
Pelicans: Former Cavs general manager David Griffin visited with Cleveland players, friends and arena employees before the game. Griffin spent seven seasons with the Cavs and was their GM when they won the NBA title in 2016. … Gentry said Williamson’s intangibles extend beyond the floor. “He has the ‘X’ factor,” Gentry said. “He’s all about the team. He’s going to play hard. He’s going to do things that help other guys become better.”
Cavaliers: Rested rookie G Darius Garland. Coach John Beilein said the decision to sit Garland was due to “fatigue” and because the first-round pick is “getting worn down.” … Cleveland will plays its next three at home. … Beilein is amazed by Williamson’s mobility for a 285-pounder. “We were just talking about how crazy athletic a man can be at that size, with that body type,” he said. “Then you put the skill level, where he can drop dimes when he’s passing, shoot 3s and really feel the game. That package doesn’t come too often.”
The Cavs honored Bryant with a 24.8 second moment of silence before the game and a moving video tribute during the first quarter. Bryant, an 18-time All-Star and five-time NBA champion, tragically died in a helicopter crash on Sunday in California.
Pelicans: Host Memphis on Friday.
Cavaliers: Host the Toronto Raptors on Thursday.
More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports