How a late-night text to Zion Williamson sparked Lonzo Ball’s career night against Golden State

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Jacob Rude
·5 min read
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Late Monday night, following the Pelicans’ frustrating loss to the Warriors on national television, Lonzo Ball sent a text to teammate Zion Williamson. It was part-apology, part-promise as Ball vowed to make up for his poor shooting performance.

If he talked the talk on Monday night, he walked the walk on Tuesday. Ball bounced back from his 3-of-18 performance on Monday with his second 33-point performance both of his career and in the last three days as the Pelicans knocked off Golden State 108-103.

“I just knew I let my team down and I wasn’t going to do that two nights in a row,” Ball said on the motivations for the text. “I know the type of player I am and I believe in myself. I was very confident coming into tonight. I knew I wasn’t going to shoot 3-of-18 again. I just wanted to let (Zion) know I was going to be there with him tonight and I did my best doing that.”

“I think those are big words and he showed us what he’s all about today,” Williamson added. “He came today and showed out. A lot of respect for that.”

While every one of Ball’s shots was important in a narrow win, his fourth-quarter performance stood out. With Brandon Ingram in the locker room after spraining his ankle late in the first half, the task of picking up a necessary win fell on the shoulders of Ball and Williamson.

And with Williamson the focus of Golden State’s defense throughout the two nights, most of that burden went to Ball, who delivered in kind, scoring 12 of the Pelicans final 16 points.

He matched a pair of 3-pointers by Golden State in the final three minutes with long-range shots of his own, tying the game at 95-95 and 98-98, respectively, after each bucket. And with the game on the line and the score tied at 100-100 in the final 30 seconds, it was Ball who came off a Williamson screen and knocked down a step-back, fadeaway midrange jumper to put the Pelicans up two points.

“I’m glad he’s my teammate,” Williamson said. “You love to have teammates like that, you know, that can say stuff like that and then come the next day and show out. He just wants to win and that’s what I love about Lonzo. He wants to win and he’ll do whatever it takes to win.”

Ball capped off his night by once again showcasing his improvements at the free throw line, knocking down four straight freebies in the last 15 seconds to ice the game away.

“He was huge,” head coach Stan Van Gundy said. “What that guy has done with his shooting over the past two years in the time he’s been here – 3-point shooting and then free throw shooting – it’s phenomenal. It really is phenomenal what he’s done and he deserves a ton of credit for that.”

“When he’s making shots, it’s a whole different world for us.”

Tuesday’s 33 points tied Ball’s career-high, which was set on Saturday against Minnesota in another crucial win. Prior to Saturday, he had zero 30-point performances in his first 210 games. In his last three games, he’s done it twice.

“I don’t want to play too many bad nights,” Ball said. “For me, I just felt like I let my team down. I know what I can do on the court and I didn’t step up to the plate last game. I wanted to be there for the guys tonight, especially Zion. He’s going out every night basically getting 30 (points) and 10 (rebounds) for us. For me to have the type of performance I had yesterday, it’s pretty unacceptable at this time of year and I wanted to fix it.”

Ball knocked down seven 3-pointers on Tuesday, the seventh time in his career he’s done so. Three of those outings have come in the last month.

“That’s what good players have to do,” James Johnson said. “It has to be consistent. It has to be day in and day out. And he’s improving greatly, from the free throw line to the 3-point line, his all-around leadership and the way that he’s pushing the ball off makes and off misses. He’s really keeping up our pace and giving us a different look when he’s out there.”

The win keeps the postseason hopes for the Pelicans alive. While catching Golden State, who is three games ahead of New Orleans with six games remaining, seems unlikely, the slumping Spurs look a slightly more realistic target.

San Antonio sits two games ahead of the Pelicans in the 10th seed with eight games still remaining. New Orleans won’t control its own fate in the race, but the Spurs have lost four games in a row.

It’s a faint hope, but a hope only possible because of Ball, Williamson and a gutsy Pelicans side grinding out a win on Tuesday.

Like I said, I’m glad he’s my teammate,” Williamson said. “A dude who just wants to do anything he can to help his team win? I love stuff like that.”