NEW ORLEANS (AP)Zion Williamson ducked and smiled as celebrating New Orleans Pelicans teammates poured bottles of water over him. Moments later, Trey Muprhy III pretended to place a crown on Williamson’s head – a fitting gesture after a memorable game which, by the end, had coronation-type energy about it.
Williamson scored a career-high 43 points, capping it with New Orleans’ final 14 points in the last 2:44 of the game, and the Pelicans outlasted the Minnesota Timberwolves 119-118 on Wednesday night for their fourth straight victory.
”People remember winners,” the 22-year-old Williamson said. ”When you look at some of the greatest of all time, the first thing you go to is championships, what they did in big moments. And that’s what I want to be remembered as – a winner.
”I can’t just sit here and say I want to win. I’ve got to show it,” added Williamson, who also credited teammate CJ McCollum for urging him on in the final minutes.
”CJ looked at me and said, `You want to be great, this is the moment to do it.”’
Anthony Edwards, who scored 27 for Minnesota, missed a baseline fade for the win as time expired on a game in which the Wolves led most of the way, and by as many as 11 points, before losing their fourth straight.
Minnesota coach Chris Finch lamented his team’s defense on Williamson in the second half that was ”way too soft.”
”We let him come running at us, and he was able to get a head of steam,” Finch said. ”When he does that, it’s tough.”
Williamson’s 3-pointer with 2:17 left, assisted by more usual perimeter threat Murphy, cut Minnesota’s lead to 112-110. Williamson then pulled out of a spinning dribble in the lane for a short floater that tied it.
”We really had diverse play-calling down the stretch,” a smiling McCollum deadpanned. ”Get the ball to Z and get the (expletive) out of the way.”
Williamson tied it again at 114 on a driving finger roll. And after Jaden McDaniels’ free throws put Minnesota back up with 1:04 left, Williamson hit a contested, off-balance, driving layup to tie it before stepping up to tip a bounce pass away from McDaniels and convert the steal into a go-ahead, breakaway dunk that had a sellout crowd in a frenzy.
”That’s just who he is; he understands time, score, situations. He understands the moment. And he made big plays after big plays,” coach Willie Green said. ”That’s what great players do.”
Edwards’ dunk tied it at 118 before Williamson hit one of two free throws, which turned out to be enough.
Murphy scored 21, going 5 of 6 from 3, and McCollum scored 20 for the Pelicans. Jonas Valanciunas had 12 points and 11 rebounds.
D’Angelo Russell had 27 points and McDaniels scored 19 for Minnesota.
”There were a lot of good things we did in the game,” Russell said. ”We did everything we could and battled. We tried to give ourselves a chance at the end of the game and that’s all you can ask for.”
The game was marked by physical play and flaring emotions.
There were 52 total fouls called, including a half-dozen technical fouls and one flagrant foul on each team.
”An emotional game, a chippy game, but this is good,” Green said. ”It builds our character. It’s great to be on the winning side.”
Austin Rivers, who wound up fouling out with nearly 8 minutes left, was assessed a flagrant-1 foul after he caught Larry Nance Jr. hard in the head with a forearm late in the third quarter. Nance went to the locker room and was ruled out for the remainder of the game with neck spasms.
Rivers, a 2012 New Orleans first-round draft choice along with Anthony Davis, also exchanged shoves with Valanciunas. Double technicals were called and an additional technical was called on New Orleans’ Naji Marshall for pushing Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert as he stepped between Valanciunas and Rivers.
Minnesota took a 50-39 lead after a 9-0 run ignited by Russell’s 3 and fueled by McDaniels’ layup and putback in the second quarter.
Back-to-back dunks by Williamson and Murphy helped the Pelicans trim it to 52-49 before Naz Reid’s 3 made it 55-49 at halftime.
Timberwolves: Jaylen Nowell scored 14 points. Reid scored 13, all in the first half. … Karl-Anthony Towns missed his 14th straight game with his right calf strain. Minnesota is 6-8 without him. … Shot 50.6% (42 of 83) overall and 10 of 29 from deep. … Outscored New Orleans in the paint, 58-52, and Wolves reserves outscored the Pelicans’ bench 30-11.
Pelicans: Never led by more than 4 points. … Shot 45.8% (11 of 24) from 3-point range. … Marshall finished with 12 points. … Brandon Ingram missed his 15th straight game with a left great toe contusion. New Orleans is 11-4 without him. … Missed 13 of 43 free throws.
Timberwolves: At Milwaukee on Friday night.
Pelicans: Host Philadelphia on Friday night.
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