NEW ORLEANS — Zion Williamson capped his long-awaited NBA debut by scoring 17 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter and stirring the crowd into a frenzy — only to see his team come up short.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 32 points and 14 rebounds, DeMar DeRozan added 20 points, and the San Antonio Spurs withstood Williamson's late surge for a 121-117 victory over New Orleans on Wednesday night.
After spending the past three months rehabilitating from arthroscopic surgery on his right knee, Williamson struggled to find his shot during the first three quarters, during which he played a little less than 12 minutes. When the fourth quarter began, he had just five points, four rebounds, an assist and four turnovers.
But when Williamson found himself open for a straight-on 3 with about nine minutes to go, he let it fly and it went down, infusing the stadium with energy. He followed that up with a torrid three-minute stretch in which he laid in an alley-oop lob, put back a missed shot with a reverse layup and hit three more 3s.
He finished the surge with a free throw as the jubilant crowd chanted, "M-V-P!"
He was subbed out shortly after with the Pelicans, who trailed by 12 to start the period, down just 109-108. But he did not return to the game, much to the displeasure of fans who chanted, “We want Zion!”
Meanwhile, the Spurs began to pull away again. DeRozan began San Antonio's decisive surge with a finger roll and pull-up jumper. Aldridge followed with a tip-in and jumper shortly after.
New Orleans got as close as 119-117 on Josh Hart's 3, but Aldridge responded with two free throws and the Spurs did not give up another basket.
Brandon Ingram scored 22 for New Orleans but missed 16 of 22 shots, while Lonzo Ball had 14 points and 12 assists.
Williamson entered the Smoothie King Center wearing a black suit with a blue design and blue basketball sneakers. Written in pink on the black T-shirt he wore under his sport coat was the expression, “Let's Dance,” which was his message to New Orleans the night the Pelicans drafted him.