NEW ORLEANS — Zion Williamson capped New Orleans’ 128-117 win over Phoenix with an electrifying 360 dunk as time expired that sent the crowd of 16,381 at Smoothie King Center into a wild frenzy.
Suns guard Cameron Payne didn’t take too kindly to Williamson’s late game display.
“The game was over,” Payne said. “There wasn’t any shot clock. They can hold the ball.’
Even Williamson admitted what he did was out of character, but it sounds as if he got caught up in the moment on his 35-point night.
‘But you gotta understand it, maybe you won’t. They sent my teammates home last year,’ Williamson said. ‘… But that was out of character for me. If they did the same thing, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.”
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Problems ensued, though.
Chris Paul and Jose Alvarado got into it first.
‘I don’t know, I don’t know, man,’ Paul said when asked why Alvarado went at him.
Pelicans coach Willie Green initially broke it up, but the dust up grew into a back-and-forth that even saw Green and Kevin Young, once on the same staff under Monty Williams in Phoenix, exchange words.
Young was back after being out three games in health and safety protocols.
Jock Landale and Naji Marshall were yelling at each other.
C.J. McCollum and Bismack Biyombo were being held back.
Then as the situation was de-escalating, Alvarado came back to have even more words for Paul as Paul was looking to walk off the court.
‘He got something with C,’ Payne said. ‘He just tries to get at C.’
And Deandre Ayton missed all of this as he left the court right after the game, but didn’t take offense to Williamson’s final dunk.
‘It’s a homecourt,’ Ayton said. ‘He’s doing it for his fans. I don’t take any of that stuff personal. I worry about postgame when it counts.’
The Pelicans (17-8) left the floor to a standing ovation while the Suns (16-10) dropped a third consecutive game on a night Devin Booker watched the game’s last 1:50 from the bench with New Orleans up eight, 120-112.
The two sides already have recent history from last season’s highly contested opening round series Phoenix won in six. Alvarado got under Paul’s skin, but Paul got the last laugh on his historic 33-point night on 14-of-14 shooting in Game 6 in becoming the first player in NBA history to make that many shots from the field without a miss.
They came into the game 1-2 in the West with New Orleans holding a half game lead. The Suns won the first matchup this season at home back in October, but New Orleans took the rematch Friday on its floor.
Then drama ensued.
‘That stuff doesn’t bother me at all,’ Williams said. ‘It’s part of basketball. It wasn’t that big of a deal. It was a bunch of guys out there yelling and screaming and not even pushing.’
They’ll see each other in less than 48 hours Sunday at 1:30 p.m. Phoenix time in the same arena where Friday’s outcome and postgame dustup is bond to carry over into the third matchup.
‘For sure,’ Suns wing Torrey Craig said. ‘I think it will. If we weren’t motivated, I think we definitely are now.’
They meet again for the fourth and final time Dec. 17 in Phoenix.