Thunder edge Pelicans despite Zion Williamson’s heroics

NEW ORLEANS — The veteran savvy of Danilo Gallinari and Chris Paul helped Oklahoma City withstand the latest stirring performance by Pelicans rookie Zion Williamson.

Gallinari scored 11 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, Paul had 14 points and 12 assists, and the Thunder beat New Orleans 123-118 on Thursday night.

“Down the stretch, that’s when we feel like we’re at our best,” Paul said. “It was Gallo tonight. He was killer.”

Williamson set his new single-game scoring mark with 32 points for New Orleans, his second straight game scoring more than 30, but Gallinari’s clutch shooting kept the Pelicans at bay.

New Orleans, which trailed by as many as 13 points in the third quarter, rallied behind Williamson’s dominant inside play to take several slim leads inside the final six minutes.

But after Lonzo Ball’s corner 3 gave the Pelicans a 111-110 lead, Gallinari hit a fall-away in the paint and followed up by rattling in a 3. He added free throws and a left-wing pull-up in the final minutes, the last making it 121-115 with 30 seconds left.

Zion Williamson goes up for  layup during the Pelicans' 123-118 loss to the Thunder on Thursday night.
Zion Williamson goes up for layup during the Pelicans’ 123-118 loss to the Thunder on Thursday night.NBAE via Getty Images

“They just have a way of hanging in games and closing them,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “They made plays down the stretch and we just didn’t.”

Dennis Schroder scored 22 points for the Thunder and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 17 points. Thunder center Steven Adams capped his 11-point, 11-rebound, three-block night with a clutch jumper in the paint that made it 119-114.

“We had a lot of guys step up in different moments,” Thunder coach Billy Donvan said. “We found a way to make enough plays there at the end.”

JJ Redick scored 24 points for the Pelicans, who saw their three-game winning streak snapped in a compelling, highlight-filled contest that saw 22 lead changes and 12 ties.

Both teams shot better than 48%, but New Orleans was done in by 17 turnovers that the Thunder converted into 24 points. Oklahoma City committed just nine turnovers.

“With a leader like Chris Paul, he’s facilitating their offense and they were hitting shots, and we just had self-inflicted turnovers,” said Williamson, who committed three turnovers.

For much of the game, Williamson delighted the crowd on both ends of the floor. He rejected Abdel Nader’s floater in the paint with a volleyball-style spike out of play. His dunks included one on a putback and another on an alley-oop feed from Frank Jackson.

Paul had nine of his assists in the opening two quarters, the last of those coming in a rather unusual way. Paul unloaded the ball to Adams in the back court in the final seconds of the half, and Adams hurled the ball right into the hoop from 56 feet.

The shot, which gave the Thunder a 66-58 lead, was the first 3-pointer of Adams’ career. He celebrated it with a brief, smiling shimmy before jogging with teammates toward the tunnel to the locker room.

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