Did Zion Williamson paint target on his back during narrow win over Suns?

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans vs. Phoenix Suns (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)
Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans vs. Phoenix Suns (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) /

Continuing a recent stretch of inconsistent play, the Phoenix Suns were narrowly defeated 129-124 on the road in New Orleans, but it’s a play that happened two days prior that still lingers. The Pels have been quite a formidable opponent for NBA teams this year, boasting an 18-8 record and sitting atop the league’s Western Conference.

The first 47 minutes

With Devin Booker still nursing a hamstring injury, 25+ point efforts from both Mikal Bridges and DeAndre Ayton were not enough to put the red-hot Pels away. Phoenix had seemingly no answer for Zion Williamson, who shot 67% from the floor and tallied 35 on the night.

In his third game back since early November, Chris Paul put together a very good passing night, tossing out 11 dimes with just three turnovers. However, his offensive game struggled mightily, recording just six points on 10 shots.

Relying on Paul as a volume scorer in year 18 is simply not realistic, but Monty Williams certainly expects him to shoot the ball with far more consistency than he showed last night.

The final seconds of Game 1

With a nine-point lead going into the final Phoenix possession of the game in Friday’s first of two matchups, a Suns miss was collected by Larry Nance Jr. and chucked across the timeline to a wide-open Zion Williamson. With around five seconds to play and a nearly double-digit lead, few expected Williamson to do what he did next.

Instead of dribbling out the clock, Zion put an exclamation mark on his big night, entrancing the home crowd with a 360-degree windmill dunk. Phoenix players did not take kindly to this gesture, as a gathering developed at half-court immediately after the final buzzer.

This decision by Williamson was a peculiar one for several reasons. First and foremost, this type of behavior seems quite uncharacteristic of Zion, who is known as a relatively respectful and laid-back individual. Williamson acknowledged this in his post-game interview, citing his rationale for the dunk as the fact that Phoenix eliminated the Pelicans from playoff contention one year ago.

The aftermath

If being seated atop the Western Conference wasn’t enough reason for Monty Williams to circle the Pelicans on the calendar, this recent stunt by Williamson most certainly will be. It seems incredibly premature for Zion to make such a statement.

Over the past two seasons, the Suns have finished top two in the West and have an NBA Finals run under their belts, whereas New Orleans has not broken .500 since the 2017-2018 campaign.

More specific to Williamson, the former Duke standout has played just over one full season’s worth of NBA contests throughout his four-year professional career. Though undoubtedly one of the league’s up-and-coming talents and a force to be reckoned with, Williamson likely just painted a target on his and his team’s back.

Down the road

This contest is certainly worth taking notes on for James Jones, as the Suns had little to no defensive answer for Williamson. Though Mikal Bridges is as versatile a defender as they come in the NBA, it is evident that he does not possess the strength and mass necessary to compete physically with Zion inside.

Outside of an emotional point of view, the biggest takeaway from this contest should be that Phoenix needs to prepare to see Williamson and the Pels in the playoffs. To do so, they should look to add a player who matches up well with Zion on the defensive end. These two teams will match up one more time this season in Phoenix on December 17.