Zion Williamson will play his first game as an NBA All-Star selection when the New Orleans Pelicans host the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday.
Williamson, who is averaging 25.1 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 61.6 percent in his second season, was picked Tuesday night as a reserve for the game on March 7 in Atlanta.
However, Williamson and his teammates have bigger things on their mind as they try to build on an historic victory that followed a tailspin.
The Pelicans seemed headed to their sixth loss in seven games when they fell behind by 24 points against the visiting Boston Celtics on Sunday. But the Pelicans chipped away and chipped away before going to overtime and winning 120-115 to complete the largest comeback in franchise history.
“We’ve got to remember this game,” said Josh Hart, who had 17 points and 10 rebounds to help lead the comeback. “I think the biggest thing is that effort, that communication, that grit. We can remember that going into every other game, especially when teams do make a run.
“We can think back to this game and know that during that time, we didn’t go our separate ways. We got closer together and we were able to pull out a tough win.”
Williamson was a key part of the comeback, scoring 24 of his 28 points after halftime, but it was the New Orleans defense that made the biggest difference.
The Pelicans allowed just eight points in the last half of the third quarter, 21 in the fourth quarter and seven in overtime.
Coach Stan Van Gundy credited point guard Lonzo Ball with being a catalyst for the defensive lift.
“Not only did he defend well on the ball, but he was the most active I’ve seen him off the ball,” Van Gundy said. “He helped us save a lot of points, a lot of shots.”
The Pistons, who had their highest-scoring game of the season when they beat the visiting Pelicans 123-112 on Feb. 14, lost their next three before winning at Orlando 105-93 on Tuesday night.
In the first meeting with New Orleans, Mason Plumlee had his first career triple-double (17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists).
The Pistons had six players with at least 15 points, but Delon Wright, who had 17, is sidelined by a groin injury.
His absence created opportunities for rookie Saben Lee and Dennis Smith Jr. Lee had a season-high 21 points off the bench against the Magic and was rewarded with a game ball afterward.
“It was a great feeling having my teammates there and congratulating me and coach (Dwane) Casey giving me the game ball,” Lee said. “(My mindset was) anything I could do to positively impact the game to get a win.”
Lee built off a solid outing in a loss to Orlando on Sunday in which he had 12 points, five assists and three steals. That was his first action since Feb. 9.
“That’s what happens when you stay ready, not only physically, but mentally and thinking positive thoughts,” Casey said. “A lot of rookies get sped up. … He didn’t (Tuesday) and he didn’t (Sunday).”
The Pistons’ backcourt also got a boost from Smith, who had 14 points Tuesday.
“I thought Dennis did an excellent job of passing ahead and letting the game come to him,” Casey said. “He wasn’t forcing things.”
–Field Level Media