NEW ORLEANS — Zion Williamson showed no fear of renowned Jazz rim protector Rudy Gobert and spearheaded a relentless — and effective — assault on the Utah basket.
Williamson had 26 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, and the New Orleans Pelicans held off a late Utah comeback bid to beat the NBA-leading Jazz 129-124 on Monday night.
“My mindset was, whatever I can do to give my teammates energy, I’m going to do it,” said Williamson, whose dominant third quarter gave New Orleans a double-digit lead heading into the fourth. “After the first two quarters of me kind of reading their defense, I really got a feel for it and I just was on the attack.”
And the defenders he attacked included the 7-foot-1 Gobert, a two-time NBA defensive player of the year.
“Rudy Gobert is a phenomenal defender and phenomenal shot-blocker. So, it’s not easy making shots over him,” Williamson said. “Honestly, I looked to draw the foul initially, but somehow I finished those shots.”
Brandon Ingram scored 26 points and Lonzo Ball added 23 points to go with eight assists, seven rebounds and two blocks, giving New Orleans three starters with 20-plus points.
“Any time we all pay like this, I definitely like our chances,” Ball said.
Pelicans reserve JJ Redick scored 17 points, highlighted by a pair of four-point plays on 3-pointers as he was fouled.
Bojan Bogdanovic hit seven 3s and finished with a game-high 31 points for Utah (27-8), which was outscored 74-56 in the paint in losing for just the eighth time this season, but also the second time in three games.
“We’ve got to own the paint and we didn’t do that in any way shape or form,” said Utah guard Donovan Mitchell, who scored 21 points. “This is a tough loss. I think we’re all pretty upset about this because it’s stuff that we knew. It wasn’t like we were tired. It wasn’t like they did anything (unexpected). We just didn’t have the urgency, and that can’t happen.”
Ball, however, said the Pelicans “knew we can get to the rim against pretty much anybody. It’s one of our strengths.”
New Orleans led by as many as 17 in the second half and was still up 14 when Ball’s 3 made it 122-108 with 3:54 left.
But Utah steadily chipped away during the next three minutes, pulling to 125-124 on Royce O’Neale‘s 3 with 46.7 seconds left. Mitchell, who scored eight of his points in the final minutes to help give the Jazz a chance, missed a driving floater with a chance to put Utah back in the lead.
Gobert, who had 22 points, nine rebounds and five blocks, was called for a loose-ball foul trying to get the rebound and Williamson hit two free throws to put New Orleans up three.
Utah’s last chance to tie went awry when New Orleans swarmed perimeter shooters and Mike Conley was forced to attempt a leaning, double-clutch 3 from the corner that missed the rim. Williamson directed the rebound to Ball, who fired his final assist downcourt to Josh Hart for a game-sealing dunk that had the socially distanced crowd of just less than 3,000 jumping out of their seats in full voice.
Jordan Clarkson scored 20 points in 27 minutes off the bench.
The Pelicans trailed 64-59 at halftime but entered the fourth quarter with an 11-point lead after outscoring Utah 40-24 in the third period. Williamson scored 15 points and added a pair of assists in the quarter.
His spurt was marked by his conversion of Ball’s three-quarter-court lob, with Williamson catching it off balance to the left of the rim and putting it in just before he crashed over the baseline.
“The moment he caught (the inbound pass), I knew he was throwing it,” Williamson said of Ball’s long lob. “When he released that pass, I knew it was on the money. I wasn’t able to dunk it so I did a little soft layup.”
Williamson also converted a three-point play on a strong drive to the basket as he was fouled, and one of his assists came after he drew three defenders with a spin move inside and slung the ball out to Redick for a 3.