NEW ORLEANS (AP)Zion Williamson watched his second 3-pointer go down, turned toward the Pelicans’ defensive end and threw a triumphant punch into the air.
Adding perimeter scoring to his already formidable play in the paint, Williamson scored 35-points for a second straight game, and New Orleans beat the short-handed Phoenix Suns 129-124 in overtime Sunday for their seventh straight victory.
”Zion is – he’s a matchup problem,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said. ”He just attacks. And when he attacks like he does, he’s just tough to cover. … It’s incredible what he can do.”
CJ McCollum added 29 for the Pelicans, who beat the Suns – playing without star guard Devin Booker because of left hamstring tightness – for the second time in three days and won for the 12th time in their last 14 games as they’ve surged to the Western Conference lead.
”The Suns, they’ve earned their resume; they’re a great team,” Williamson said. ”So for us to get two back-to-back wins against them, that’s big for our confidence.”
Deandre Ayton had 28 points and 12 rebounds for Phoenix, but fouled out on Williamson’s drive with New Orleans clinging to a two-point lead in the final minute of regulation.
Williamson and Naji Marshall each made only one of two free throws in the final 36 seconds of the fourth quarter, allowing Chris Paul to tie it with a pull-up jumper with 2.8 seconds to go.
The game went to overtime after Williamson’s mid-range jumper rimmed out at the horn, but Paul joined Ayton on the bench after fouling out with 2:52 to go in the extra period. Paul initially appeared to have drawn a foul on a missed 3-pointer, but the Pelicans challenged the call. On video review, officials ruled that Paul kicked out his right leg into Williamson.
The Pelicans then scored six straight on McCollum’s step-back jumper, Marshall’s late-shot-clock finger roll and McCollum’s floater off the glass to take the lead for good and send the Suns to a fifth loss in six games.
”Let it slide off. Realize it’s a long season,” Paul said about the Suns’ recent swoon. ”We know we definitely have to get better and right some things here. But it’s not do or die yet.”
Marshall finished with 16 points and fellow reserve Larry Nance Jr. had 15 points, four steals and two late blocks for New Orleans.
”That’s a team that, we’re trying to get to their level,” Nance said about the Suns. ”They’ve been to the Finals … We’re trying to pass them so they’re a really good gauge for us to measure ourselves.”
Williamson, whose highlights included an alley-oop dunk in transition and driving, off-balance layups while being fouled, tied his season high in points after also scoring 35 on Friday night in the first of two consecutive home games against Phoenix.
Mikal Bridges scored 27 points for Phoenix. Cameron Payne had 17 and Paul assisted on 11 baskets.
New Orleans used a 27-9 run – during which Williamson and McCollum each scored seven – to open a 90-75 lead in the third quarter.
But the Suns cut it to 98-93 by the end of the period, with Payne hitting a 3, a layup and two free throws during an 18-8 spurt.
New Orleans maintained a narrow lead for most of the fourth quarter until Torrey Craig, who scored 14, hit a 3 to tie it at 111 with 2:48 to go.
”We were undermanned and we saw different guys giving everything they can,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. ”They were spent at the end of game, so that’s a very good sign. I’m just proud of the effort we made when we got down.”
Suns: Booker played 36 minutes Friday night. Suns coach Monty Williams said Booker wanted to play but the team thought it would be better for his longer-term health for him to rest. Booker has averaged 27.4 points per game this season. … Damion Lee scored 12 points. … Phoenix had 19 offensive rebounds, converting those into 21 second-chance points. … Went 13 of 17 from the free-throw line.
Pelicans: Rookie Dyson Daniels had 11 points and six assists. He briefly left the game in the fourth quarter after banging knees with the Suns’ Jock Landale, but returned in overtime. … Brandon Ingram (left foot) missed his seventh straight game and fellow wing player Herb Jones (left ankle) missed his fifth straight. … Outscored Phoenix 70-64 in the paint. … Went 21 of 28 on free throws.
Suns: At Houston on Tuesday night.
Pelicans: At Utah on Tuesday night.
AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports