SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Zion Williamson scored 30 points and matched a career high with 15 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans rolled to a 117-99 victory Friday night over the San Antonio Spurs, who were without coach Gregg Popovich.
The Spurs had a plan to defend Williamson, but stopping the 6-foot-6, 285-pound forward is another story.
“I was on the free throw line and one of the guys on the Spurs was telling another guy, ‘Don’t let him go left,’” New Orleans wing Trey Murphy III said. “The dude was like, ‘Bro, I’m trying. Like, it ain’t that easy.’ I told him, ‘Yeah, he’s a big dude, bro. I’m sorry.‘”
Jonas Valanciunas added 21 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, which has won three straight and eight of 10 to remain atop the Southwest Division ahead of Memphis.
San Antonio has lost 10 straight, matching the franchise’s second-longest losing streak set in 1987. The Spurs’ longest skid was 13 straight in 1989.
Popovich was at the AT&T Center but missed the game due to a minor medical procedure, according to the Spurs. He will also miss Sunday’s home game against Phoenix.
Former Philadelphia coach Brett Brown coached the Spurs in Popovich’s absence.
Popovich joined San Antonio’s growing injury report.
The Spurs were without starters Jakob Poeltl and Jeremy Sochan as well as key reserves Doug McDermott and Josh Richardson.
Despite that, the Spurs played the Pelicans close for the first 34 minutes until Williamson took over again.
Williamson had a then season-high 32 points against San Antonio on Nov. 23 in a 129-110.
“He is such a powerful man and such an incredible athlete,” Brown said. “I’ve been in the league a long time. Zion’s power and his strength … whatever you do, you better come quick. If there is one hint of indecision, it’s too late.”
New Orleans closed the third quarter on a 13-2 run and bridged the quarters with a 19-5 advantage.
Coming off a season-high 33 points in Wednesday’s victory over Toronto, Williamson was 9 for 14 from the field against San Antonio. He had 15 points in the third quarter.
Valanciunas added six points and four rebounds in the third as the Pelicans outscored the Spurs 32-19 in the third. Williamson and Valanciunas combined to shoot 8 for 9 from the field in the third quarter.
“JV is a phenomenal player. I think I’m an OK player,” Williamson said with a smile. “I think we are both just smart players. I’ve been saying since the beginning of the year, it’s just going to take time. The more we play on the court with each other, the better our chemistry is.”
Devin Vassell scored 25 points and Keldon Johnson had 15 for San Antonio.
Pelicans: Herbert Jones missed the game with a sprained left ankle.. … Rookie Dyson Daniels made his first start in place of Jones. Daniels finished with four points, five rebounds and three assists in 31 minutes. … New Orleans is 6-5 on the road after losing three straight to open November.
Spurs: San Antonio’s previous 10-game skid ended with a 123-112 victory over Portland on April 14, 1987. The Spurs beat the Los Angeles Lakers 106-98 on Nov. 3, 1989, to end a nine-game skid. … Alize Johnson became the 50th player called up from San Antonio’s G League franchise in Austin.
Pelicans: Host Denver on Sunday.
Spurs: Host Phoenix on Sunday.
Murphy wore the No. 10 jersey of Las Vegas Aces guard Kelsey Plum to the post-game press conference.
Plum began her WNBA career in San Antonio with the Stars, who relocated to Las Vegas in 2018.
Murphy said he wants to use the spotlight he receives as an NBA player to help the WNBA.
“It’s super important,” Murphy said. “They are in a sense co-workers with us. There is a lot of time people are overlooking what they are doing. Those girls are very skilled. In all honesty, there is a lot of girls that have more skills than some NBA players, but they don’t get the recognition they deserve.”