CJ McCollum and Zion Williamson lead Pelicans past Grizzlies 111-104 in season opener
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — CJ McCollum scored 24 points, Zion Williamson added 23 points and seven rebounds as the New Orleans Pelicans defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 111-104 on Wednesday night in the season-opener for both teams.
McCollum was 8 of 16 from the field including 6 of 11 from outside the arc. Williamson scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter to avoid any comeback by Memphis. Brandon Ingram finished with 19 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Jonas Valanciunas added 12 points and 12 rebounds.
New Orleans coach Willie Green said the production came from all of his players.
“Everybody that came in and touched the floor, their mission was to win their minutes,” Green said of the team approach, adding: “Collectively, our group just came in with the mentality to execute offensively, and everything started with our defense.”
Forward Matt Ryan, who was claimed by the Pelicans off waivers in recent days, came off the bench in the first half to score 9 points in 7 minutes, going 3-for-5 from 3-point range in the first half to put the Pels out to a 38-33 lead before half. Once the Pelicans took the lead, they never trailed for the remainder of the game.
Desmond Bane led Memphis with 31 points, while Marcus Smart had 17 points. Xavier Tillman matched Smart’s 17 points and added 12 rebounds.
The game was the first of the 25-game suspension for Grizzles guard Ja Morant, the team’s leading scorer last season. He is scheduled to finish the suspension in December. That left Bane to pick up some of the offensive load in Morant’s absence.
“One, we’ve got to get better, but two, it’s a long season,” Bane said, adding that the Grizzlies have long season-openers in previous years. “We have to be better, and we will. Obviously, we want to win every game, but we want to build winning habits along the way.”
Morant’s absence, along with several injuries across the Memphis frontline had the Grizzlies at a disadvantage. That left Memphis playing small-ball lineups in much of the game.
Meanwhile, the Pelicans are starting the season with key people healthy, particularly Ingram and Williamson, who missed significant parts of last season. That led to a 52-37 New Orleans advantage on the boards. Despite New Orleans committing 21 turnovers, Memphis only converted two fast break points.
“Credit to them,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said. “We couldn’t rebound because we were taking the ball out of the net, so we couldn’t get out and run.”
New Orleans led 57-47 at halftime, after holding the Grizzlies to 36% shooting. The lead built in the third quarter as the Pelicans benefited from Memphis’s mistakes and continued poor shooting.
The New Orleans advantage dwindled to 90-81 early in the fourth, but seven quick points took the Pelicans lead back to 16, its largest in the game at the time. Williamson was the key to a run when Memphis got close, coming out and hitting five of his seven shots in the final frame.
“For me, it’s going to be a few games getting that in-game flow back,” Williamson said of a poor first half. “No matter how much I work out, train, play pick up, there’s nothing like a real NBA game.”
While Green was pleased with the Pelicans’ performance, like any coach after opening night, he saw plenty of spots for improvement.
“We’ve got work to do,” he said. “We can improve. We can get better. It’s better to teach off a win.”
Pelicans: Host the New York Knicks on Saturday.
Grizzlies: Host Denver on Friday night.
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