LAS VEGAS — The Southern California earthquake that twice in as many days sent Las Vegas into a vibration made a touchdown at the NBA Summer League, and proved that even champion boxer Floyd Mayweather is not a man without fear.
Like many in the announced sellout Friday at Thomas & Mack Center, Mayweather scurried for cover before the Pelicans-Knicks game ended abruptly, but by then everyone had saw what they came to see anyway, so no sense in sticking around.
Zion Williamson was well worth the tremble, cramming enough awe in his nine minutes of playing time to give a clue, possibly, of what’s coming to New Orleans this season.
“Well,” deadpanned Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry, “we don’t have any earthquakes in our city, and won’t have any, either.”
But just as well, Williamson if nothing else will be the next biggest attraction after gumbo in the Big Easy if he takes to the regular season the way he did Summer League.
His most vivid play was ripping the ball right out of Kevin Knox’s stunned hands, causing the second-year Knicks forward to spin to the floor in the process, then turning and dunking and flexing a bicep to get a rise out of the arena.
Also, Williamson soared for a goal-tending call that was as spectacular as it was illegal, showing that there are few opposing shots that he won’t contest.
In all, Williamson scored 11 points before sitting for good after knocking knees with a Knicks player during a second quarter scrum. The good news is Williamson, in nine minutes, put on a show. The potential bad news for anyone holding tickets for New Orleans’ remaining three games is Williamson may not play again in Summer League and if so, just sparingly.
Yes, “load management” has come to the NBA Summer League.
“We’ll see,” said Gentry. “He has a little tightness in his back. We won’t take any risks or anything. We’ll see how he’s feeling and go from there.”
Williamson and teammates were hoarded quickly on the team bus as a result of the earthquake so he wasn’t available for comment. Still, he clearly was amped to return to the floor in an official game, something he hadn’t done since Duke was eliminated in the NCAA tournament in late March. He especially relished the chance to compete against Knicks big man Mitchell Robinson, and vice versa, once Robinson blocked Williamson’s second shot.
Robinson blocked another Williamson shot, then raced down for a dunk and shook his head, as if to rub it in. Yet by then, Williamson had a pair of thunderous dunks, a snatch-away from Knox and, yes, an airball. He also shot 3 for 6 from the free throw line and missed five shots from the floor, including his only two from three-point land. And everyone in the building was riveted.
“If he played great or didn’t play great it doesn’t really matter,” said Gentry. “We know what we got, and know where he’ll get to. You have to understand, for the last six weeks he’s been on tour. He hasn’t been able to just settle down and work out and do what he loves best and that’s play basketball. He’s going to be great and I’m not worried about it.”
Yes, since being drafted by the Pelicans and sending a shot of adrenalin through a franchise that desperately needed a pick-me-up, Williamson has done the rounds in New Orleans with meet-and-greets and a youth clinic. The reviews have been unanimous: Williamson appears happy to be a Pelican and vice versa.
“A great kid,” said Gentry. “Great to be around.”
Curiously, one of the biggest applauses in the arena Friday happened when Anthony Davis took his seat next to LeBron James at courtside — obviously, plenty of Laker fans were in attendance. The former Pelicans All-Star’s arrival in L.A. is greatly anticipated once the trade is official, but just as well, the Pelicans believe they made out fine. Newly-hired team president David Griffin hoarded a batch of future No. 1 picks and/or first-round swaps from the Lakers in the process, plus added Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, both of whom were also on hand Friday (and cordially greeted LeBron, now their ex-teammate).
There’s a renewed euphoria surrounding the Pelicans now, and it was only amplified Friday with Williamson’s NBA Summer League debut. And yet that giddy feeling might not last much longer — not because Williamson is going to be an NBA bust, but because he may not see the floor much, if at all, again in Vegas.
He means that much to the Pelicans, in case you haven’t noticed.