RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson finally faced off as opponents when the New York Knicks visited the New Orleans Pelicans.
Wednesday night was no ordinary New York Knicks game.
In recent years, this would just be a routine visit to the Big Easy to play the New Orleans Pelicans. The Knicks would play the game, have some late-night jambalaya along with some responsible fun on Bourbon Street, and then close the night with beignets at Cafe Du Monde.
The ongoing pandemic would prevent most of that, but the basketball game would provide excitement aplenty. At long last, RJ Barrett would play against his former college teammate, Pelicans star Zion Williamson.
The story of this practically writes itself. Williamson and Barrett starred together at Duke, then entered the 2019 NBA Draft together. Though the New York Knicks had the worst record in the league, New Orleans won the rights to the No. 1 pick and Williamson. New York was given the No. 3, drafted Barrett, and here we are.
And the Pelicans beat the Knicks last year before the pandemic ended their season, but it wasn’t the same. Zion Williamson missed that game with an injury, and Barrett hadn’t yet found himself as a player.
Now, however, the stage was set for two friends to do battle. Was Williamson’s celebrity and athleticism too much for the blue-collar New York Knicks, or would Barrett’s grit and passion win out?
1st quarter: Zion wins on points
The New York Knicks started this game strong as Julius Randle hit a trio of threes in the first five minutes, and New York seemed in a flow on the court. That changed in the second half when the Pelicans tightened their defense and went on a late 8-2 run.
As for Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett’s matchup, Williamson won the first round by a nose. He scored six points with three rebounds in the quarter, though he did most of his damage late. Barrett, meanwhile, managed three of his own.
Otherwise, both teams looked hungry for a win and finished the quarter tied 26-26.
Halftime report: The Zion Express
The New York Knicks led 53-52 at halftime thanks to pure dumb luck. They had a 9-0 run early on, but New Orleans added two separate 7-0 runs to fully control the pace of play.
Meanwhile, Williamson continued to star as he just overwhelmed New York in the paint. He ended the half with 14 points, seven rebounds, and even four assists. Barrett, meanwhile, was a non-factor and struggled on 1 of 5 shooting. Even worse, Randle went ice cold and was 4 of 15 by the half.
Simply put, the Knicks would be in for a rough time unless they tamed the runaway train in Williamson.
3rd quarter: A race to the finish
Whew! Talk about a fast-paced quarter of basketball. The New York Knicks outscored the New Orleans Pelicans 40-37 in the third and took a 93-89 lead into the fourth quarter.
It was a long, hard journey getting to the lead. Randle scored 14 points, and the Knicks came together to close the quarter on a determined 11-2 run. Derrick Rose added some veteran flair with six points in the last two minutes, but the job wasn’t done yet.
The Knicks needed to play one more quarter and hold the lead after giving up 50 points in the paint. One way or another, a sprint to the end was due.
4th quarter: Zion wins the battle, RJ wins the war
RJ Barrett only had six points on 2 of 10 shooting and didn’t play in the fourth, while Zion Williamson finished with 25 points and eight boards. Despite the wide differences in their respective games, Barrett had the last laugh as his New York Knicks won 116-106. It was the team’s fourth straight victory.
The Knicks maintained control throughout the fourth despite an 8-3 New Orleans run. In the end, the Pelicans’ defense just couldn’t stop New York’s scoring. Randle overcame erratic shooting to have a 32-point night, and Alec Burks scored 14 points in the fourth including a key three with just over two minutes left.
Even as the Pelicans pushed, New York stayed focused and won.
Player of the game: Alec Burks
Randle led on numbers, but Burks came through when it mattered. The Sixth Man of the Year candidate scored 21 points, 16 of which came in the second half, and also added four triples.