NEW ORLEANS — Pelicans forward Zion Williamson took two dribbles to the edge and landed a 360 windmill dunk to end Friday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns in style.
Some Suns players objected to Williamson’s slam, which came with 1.9 seconds left to put the Pelicans in double digits. As the clock ran out in New Orleans’ 128-117 win, tempers flared as both benches cleared the field.
Pelicans guard Jose Alvarado, Suns guards Cameron Payne and Chris Paul and coaches from both teams met near center court before team security helped separate the two teams.
“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’re doing the right thing. I felt like they should have done the right thing. thing and they didn’t. We didn’t take it well and we “I don’t like losing either. The game was over, no shot clock. They can hold the ball.”
Pelicans guard CJ McCollum, when asked about Payne’s postgame remarks, gave a simple answer.
“They have to come back on defense if they don’t want us to dunk the ball,” McCollum said. “Come back to defense.”
Replays of the game’s final seconds showed Pelicans coach Willie Green stepping between Alvarado and Paul after time expired. When Green stepped in, players and coaches from both teams joined in, although only words were exchanged.
Asked about the dust afterwards, Alvarado and Paul tried to downplay the event.
“I don’t really remember what happened,” Alvarado said. “I’m just happy that we got the win.”
Said Paul: “It’s the excitement at the end of the game. It happens all the time and it’s like that. Nobody fights. Nobody does anything.”
Alvarado and Paul got to know each other very well in the playoffs last season when the Suns ousted the Pelicans in six games. Alvarado, the undrafted player from Georgia Tech, liked to tackle a seasoned NBA veteran like Paul. In the deciding game 6, Paul elbowed Alvarado in the face on the way to the goal, chipping Alvarado’s tooth. Alvarado also suffered a groin kick from Paul in Game 5 of this series.
Paul apparently wasn’t in the mood to discuss Alvarado after Friday’s game, and Alvarado wouldn’t address Paul by name. Alvarado was originally listed as questionable for the game due to a bruised rib. But that wasn’t enough to keep him off the ground Friday night.
“I wasn’t 100% seated,” Alvarado said. “I don’t care about anyone else, but if that person plays, I play.”
Williamson was unavailable for the playoff meeting with Phoenix due to a broken foot that wiped out his entire year. He said being knocked out by the Suns played a part in why he participated in that final dunk.
“It was a bit out of place for me,” Williamson said. “But you have to understand, I mean, you can understand it or not. They sent my teammates home last year.
“I missed all of last year. I got a little carried away. I admit that. But you know, I was in that locker room when my brothers were down because the Suns sent us home l last year. It’s a tough time to be a part of. So at that time, I got carried away. I admit it. … If they were to do the same thing, I wouldn’t have no problem with that.
There won’t be much of a rift between the teams either. The Pelicans host the Suns again on Sunday afternoon.
While it was the Pelicans and Suns’ second meeting of the season, it was the first for Williamson, who missed Game 1 Oct. 28 with lower back and right hip pain.
Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. said he doesn’t believe Williamson’s dunk itself was what caused the benches to clear and instead it was the emotions of the game.
“I think it was just one of those things. You have a lot of high performance, high testosterone athletes and guys who are big and strong,” Nance said. “I’m glad he broke up before something stupid happened.”
Williamson finished with a season-high 35 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Pelicans, who improved to 17-8, tied for the best record in franchise history in 25 games (2002 -03 and 2003-04). It also earned them a game-high Western Conference record against Memphis and 1.5 against Phoenix.