Pelicans Left Wondering What If They Had Zion Williamson After Elimination By Oklahoma City In Play-In

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Well, wonder if Zion Williamson could have scored six points for the New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday night?

That would have been enough for his team to advance in the NBA Play-In Tournament. But Williamson did not play despite saying on Tuesday that he was “physically fine” after suffering a strained hamstring on January 2 and not playing since.

Oklahoma City Pulls Away From Pelicans

The Pelicans instead lost by five, 123-118, to Oklahoma City in front of a sparse crowd at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans to end their season as Williamson watched in street clothes.

Oklahoma City advances to a second play-in game at Minnesota on Friday (9:30 p.m., ESPN) with the winner moving to the NBA Playoffs.

“I can pretty much do everything,” Williamson said at a Pelicans’ practice on Tuesday. “If I was to go out there, I would be in my head. I would be in my head a lot, I would hesitate on certain moves, and that could affect the game. I don’t want to go out there and be in my own head and affect the team when I can just be on the sidelines supporting them more.”

Zion Williamson Could Have Helped

Five points from Zion could have been all that was needed to save the Pelicans.

New Orleans led 63-57 at the half behind balanced scoring. But Oklahoma City outscored the Pelicans, 39-24, in the third period to take a 96-87 lead entering the fourth quarter.

The Pelicans quickly erased that and took a 101-100 lead with 7:59 left.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) of Oklahoma City drives against Brandon Ingram of New Orleans during the first half at the Smoothie King Center on Wednesday in an NBA Play-In Tournament game. (Photo By Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

The game went back and forth from there as the crowd came alive. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander put the Thunder up to stay at 115-114 on a jumper with 28.3 seconds to play and finished with a game-high 32 points. Josh Giddey hit two free throws with 12 seconds left for a 117-114 lead and finished with 31 for the Thunder.

Brandon Ingram hit a 3-pointer to pull New Orleans within 119-118 with 2.8 seconds to go, but Gilgeous-Alexander added four free throws to close the game. Ingram finished with 30 points.

New Orleans coach Willie Green criticized his team’s “casualness” at the end of the third quarter before the Pelicans roared back.

New Orleans Pelicans Could Have Used Zion Williamson

Williamson was averaging 26 points, 7 rebounds and 4.6 assists before being lost for the season.

“Can I just give you a what if,” ESPN analyst Jalen Rose asked at halftime with the Pelicans ahead. “What if Zion is able to contribute to this Pelicans team?”.

“Championship contention,” Stephen A. Smith answered.

“Man,” Rose said.

“See if they’re able to get through tonight and then a win on Friday, and maybe we see Zion in the playoffs,” ESPN’s Mike Greenberg said.

What If?

We’ll never know.

“If I feel like Zion, I’ll be out there,” Williamson said Tuesday. “The team and myself are being extra cautious, so it doesn’t happen again.”

He now has six more months to get ready for the 2023-24 season.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau joined OutKick as an SEC columnist in September of 2021 after covering LSU and the Saints for 17 years at USA TODAY Louisiana. He has been a national columnist/feature writer since the summer of 2022, covering college football, basketball and baseball with some NFL, NBA, MLB, TV and Movies and general assignment, including hot dog taste tests.

A New Orleans native and Mizzou graduate, he has consistently won Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) awards since covering Alabama and Auburn at the Mobile Press-Register (1993-98) and LSU and the Saints at the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004). In 2021, Guilbeau won an FWAA 1st for a game feature, placed in APSE Beat Writing, Breaking News and Explanatory, and won Beat Writer of the Year from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA). He won an FWAA columnist 1st in 2017 and was FWAA's top overall winner in 2016 with 1st in game story, 2nd in columns, and features honorable mention.

Guilbeau completed a book in 2022 about LSU's five-time national champion coach - "Everything Matters In Baseball: The Skip Bertman Story" - that is available at, and Barnes & Noble outlets. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, the former Michelle Millhollon of Thibodaux who previously covered politics for the Baton Rouge Advocate and is a communications director.

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