Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans opened the NBA season with a punishing 130-108 victory over the star-studded Nets in Brooklyn on Wednesday.
Brandon Ingram scored 28 points and Williamson — playing his first regular-season game in more than 17 months — scored 25 to signal his intentions as he returns from the right foot injury that sidelined him for a season.
“He’s very excited,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said of Williamson, the 2019 top draft pick who at 22 has already battled a raft of injuries.
“The hard work he had to put in to get to this point, we’re all proud of him as a team and an organization.”
Williamson helped the Pels build an 18-4 lead midway through the fourth quarter, easily outpacing Brooklyn’s Ben Simmons — another former top draft pick who has also battled injuries.
Australian Simmons made his debut for the Nets, who acquired him from Philadelphia last season as he battled a back injury for which he had surgery in May.
Nets star Kevin Durant, who stayed put in Brooklyn after rocking the league with a tade demand in June, kept the hosts in touch, scoring 21 of his 32 points in the first half.
But the Pelicans out-scored the Nets 40-28 in the third quarter to take control for good. They never trailed and led by as many as 26 points, parlaying 21 offensive rebounds into 36 points.
Ingram was a model of efficiency, racking up his 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting.
In contrast, Kyrie Irving connected on just six of 19 shots for 15 points and Simmons scored just four points before fouling out.
In Memphis, Ja Morant scored 34 points and the Memphis Grizzlies edged the New York Knicks 115-112 in an overtime thriller.
Despite Morant’s heroics, the Knicks nearly authored the come-from-behind stunner, erasing a 19-point lead and forcing overtime on Cam Reddish’s three-pointer.
Memphis were up 115-112 late in the extra session when Tyus Jones missed two free throws and the Knicks got another chance, but Evan Fournier missed the three-point attempt.
“Pretty much it was just getting stops,” Morant said of the key at the end. “It was down to the team that was getting stops and coming down and executing. I felt like we did that very well, even though the game was still close … we’re a resilient team and it showed.”
– Gobert shines for T’Wolves –
The second night of the new season saw 24 teams in action and some familiar faces in new places.
Three-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert, acquired by Minnesota from Utah in the off-season, drained a big basket to end the third quarter and tipped in a D’Angelo Russell miss with less than three minutes remaining to help the Timberwolves to a 115-108 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Gobert finished with 23 points and 16 rebounds for the Timberwolves, who had 32 points from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
All-Star guard Dejounte Murray scored 20 points and came up with five steals in his Atlanta debut to help the Hawks beat the Houston Rockets 117-107.
In Toronto, the Raptors spoiled Donovan Mitchell’s debut for Cleveland, scoring 32 points in the fourth quarter as they rallied for a 108-105 victory.
Pascal Siakam scored 23 points and grabbed 11 rebounds and O.G. Anunoby scored 10 of his 18 points in the final period as Mitchell’s 31 points proved too little for the Cavs.
In Detroit, last season’s top draft pick Cade Cunningham scored 24 points to lead the Pistons to a 113-109 victory over Orlando, but the Magic could celebrate an impressive debut for this year’s No. 1 draft pick Paolo Banchero.
The 19-year-old scored 27 points with nine rebounds and five assists — the best debut numbers for a top draft pick since LeBron James in 2003.