Zion Williamson apologized for his 360-degree, one-handed slam dunk that angered the Phoenix Suns at the end of a game the New Orleans Pelicans had all but won.
Still, the crowd-pleasing play symbolized Williamson’s potential to rise above the disappointments of previous seasons and live up to the extraordinary hype that followed him into the NBA.
The dunk contest-style jam capped a season-high 35-point performance for Williamson, and the Pelicans beat the Suns 128-117 on Friday night in a matchup of the top two teams in the Western Conference.
“That was a little out of character for me,” Williamson said of the game-ending dunk, after which players and coaches from both teams swarmed around one another angrily as officials frantically stepped in to separate them.
“I got carried away a little bit. I admit that,” Williamson said. “But I was in that locker room when my brothers were down because the Suns sent us home [from the playoffs] last year. That’s a tough moment to be a part of. So, in that moment got carried away. I admit that.”
Williamson missed all of last season – his third in the NBA – with a foot injury and came into this campaign having missed more games in his career than he’d played. Lately he’s been brilliant, averaging 29.5 points during a six-game Pelicans winning streak – all while New Orleans star forward Brandon Ingram has been out with a foot injury.
CJ McCollum had 18 points for the Pelicans, who have won six straight and 11 of 13, and afterward questioned the Suns’ reaction to Williamson’s dunk.
“They got to get back on defense if they don’t want us to dunk the ball,” McCollum said.
But Phoenix guard Cameron Payne explained why the Suns reacted angrily.
“The game was pretty much over, and they just kept playing,” Payne said. “I felt like there was just no sportsmanship, and we don’t really like that. We do the right thing. I felt like they should’ve done the right thing, and they didn’t. We didn’t take it well, and we don’t like to lose either. The game was over, no shot clock. They can hold the ball.”
After the game, both coaches downplayed the heated exchanges.
“That stuff doesn’t bother me at all, man,” Suns coach Monty 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. Just everybody trying to stand their ground.”
Willie Green, who briefly had to be held back by the Pelicans’ assistant coaches, called it, “Just a little brush up. Nothing major.”
Deandre Ayton had 25 points and 14 rebounds, and Chris Paul added 24 points for the Suns (16-10), who lost for the fourth time in five games to fall 1.5 games behind New Orleans (17-8) atop the Western Conference.
“This is not us,” Williams said. “We’re just giving up way too many points in the paint and in general … I’ve got to get the guys in the game that are going to be physical and smart enough to handle the pressure that they give you in the paint.”