Zion Williamson 'Felt Alive Again' After Playing Closing Minutes vs. Grizzlies

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 4, 2020

New Orleans Pelicans' Zion Williamson (1) shoots in front of Memphis Grizzlies' Brandon Clarke (15) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Aug. 3, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis, Pool)
Ashley Landis/Associated Press

After playing a combined 29 minutes in the New Orleans Pelicans' first two seeding games at Walt Disney World, both of which were losses, rookie Zion Williamson "felt alive again" during Monday's 109-99 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies.  

"I felt alive again," Williamson told ESPN's Malika Andrews after the game. "My competitive spirit was there, and I'm glad [head coach Alvin Gentry] and the whole team trusted me to finish the game out."

The Duke product finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists while notably playing 25 minutes in a victory that was critical for the Pelicans' playoff hopes.

Andrew Lopez of ESPN explained the situation, noting the Pelicans put a "burst restriction" on Williamson in those first two games since he left the league's campus-like environment in Florida on July 16, returned on July 24, quarantined for four days after he got back and missed the team's three scrimmage games.

Throw in the fact he didn't even make his season debut until Jan. 22 because of injuries and it was clear New Orleans was taking a cautious approach with its young star.

"I ain't gonna lie to you, it's just different in a bad way when I'm on the bench in the fourth quarter, and there's nothing I can do to help my team win," Williamson said. "So I said I felt alive—it was just great to be out there doing whatever I can to help my team win. And as for the energy part, me and my teammates can just feed off each other."

Williamson's explosiveness around the rim and on the glass gives the team another element and prevents the opposing defense from focusing too much attention on Brandon Ingram and Jrue Holiday.

That his skill set was on display Monday was key because it was such an important head-to-head win during a six-way battle for the No. 8 seed with a group that includes the Grizzlies.

Memphis holds the No. 8 seed but is just two games ahead of the Portland Trail Blazers and San Antonio Spurs, 2.5 games ahead of the Pelicans, three games ahead of the Sacramento Kings and 3.5 games ahead of the Phoenix Suns.

Whichever team earns the No. 9 seed will face the No. 8 seed in a play-in tournament for that last spot, assuming it is within four games. The No. 9 seed will need to win two in a row in such a scenario.

On Monday, Williamson proved he can be a critical part of a win over the Grizzlies with playoff implications on the line.