Zion Williamson scores 28, closes out Pelicans’ 107-100 win over the Bucks

By BRETT MARTEL AP Sports Writer

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Zion Williamson took a more assertive approach to the final minutes of a close game and it paid off for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Williamson capped a 28-point performance by hitting five of six free throws in the final three minutes and New Orleans held off the Milwaukee Bucks 107-100 on Thursday night.

“If we’re going to lose certain games, we at least want to do it the right way, knowing that we got the shots we wanted,” said Williamson, who did not attempt a shot in the final three minutes of New Orleans’ 119-112 loss to Oklahoma City on Tuesday night.

“That was the emphasis tonight and we were able to get the win,” Williamson said.

The Pelicans led for most of the game and by as many as 18 in the first half. But when Damian Lillard hit a 3-pointer with just more than five minutes left, New Orleans’ lead was down to five — much like on Tuesday night, when the Pelicans lost a five-point lead in the last three minutes to the Thunder.

This time, Williamson continued to attack the basket and his accurate foul shooting in the clutch helped the Pelicans close it out.

CJ McCollum scored 25 points and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and 10 rebounds for New Orleans, giving him his 32nd double-double of the season, but just his first in 11 games. Trey Murphy III had 15 points and 11 rebounds for the Pelicans, who won despite going just 8 of 32 on 3-pointers and shooting just 39.6% (36 of 91) overall.

“Effort — that was really it,” Murphy said of his uptick in rebounding. “My dad was in the crowd and had a mad look on his face, so I tried to make him a little more happy by rebounding the ball.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 35 points and 14 rebounds for Milwaukee, and Williamson, who had to guard him at times, marveled at the “Greek Freak’s” relentlessness in the paint.

“Man, I thought I attacked the basket,” Williamson said, smiling and shaking his head in admiration of Antetokounmpo, who scored 20 straight Bucks points to close the third quarter. “He has a high motor. I’ve got to give him his respect on that, and he’s always on the attack.”

Lillard scored 20 points for the Bucks, as did Malik Beasley, who hit six 3s.

Milwaukee lost its second straight after falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in overtime in its previous game.

New Orleans outscored Milwaukee 52-44 in the paint and the Pelicans went 27 of 34 from on free throws. Milwaukee attempted 19 free throws, hitting 10.

“I just thought they played more physical. They were the more aggressive team,” Lillard said. “Usually the more aggressive team gets rewarded by the whistle. The game favors that team more. I think they had that going, the crowd got into it. They were able to get their hands on the ball, they chased offensive rebounds, they got extra opportunities. They just played a better game than us.”

New Orleans led 52-34 when McCollum converted a three-point play on a 7-foot runner as he was fouled, capping a 14-2 run.

Valanciunas and Herb Jones each hit 3s during the spurt, which began with McCollum’s floater off the glass as he was fouled by Lillard.

Antetokounmpo scored 12 of his points in the opening half, including an alley-oop layup that made it made it 59-45 before Larry Nance Jr.’s floater at the horn gave New Orleans a 61-45 halftime lead.


Suns: Visit Atlanta on Saturday night.

Pelicans: Host Boston on Saturday night.


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