On Thursday night, the Bulls fell 125-119 to the Pelicans at the United Center. It wasn't as close as that final score might appear. With 3:54 remaining, the Pelicans led 119-96 before a historic 15-point Adam Mokoka spurt sent the United Center into a derisive frenzy — a spurt that ultimately, of course, fell short.
But let's not talk about that. Let's talk about Zion Williamson.
The 19-year-old rookie looked anything but in (somehow) just his eighth NBA game, flipping a scoreless first quarter into a 21-point, 9-for-11 shooting performance by game's end. It's his fourth consecutive game with 20 or more points, and sixth of eight overall.
Before you ask: Yes, the dunks were there. Two, to be exact. The latter one came with just over 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter. Though the game seemed out of reach for the hosts, Williamson refused to let an arcing, 30-foot Lonzo Ball lob escape his grasp:
Zion gets up, huh? pic.twitter.com/zNIDt05HJr— Bulls Talk (@NBCSBulls) February 7, 2020
That elicited the loudest reaction from the United Center crowd of the night (until, of course, Mokoka got going).
"I mean, it was a great pass from Lonzo," Williamson said when asked about that reaction.
That's Williamson's M.O.: Steady, humble, team-oriented. His teammates were willing to heap on a little more praise.
"Zion's Zion," Ball said. "Everywhere he goes, people gonna know him, people gonna come want to see him play."
"He's a force," J.J. Redick said. "No question, he's a force."
As those around the Pelicans are quick to note, Williamson's impact goes beyond the highlight package. All 11 of his field goal attempts tonight did come in the restricted area, but how he got there was unique: Dribble-drives, spinning post and face-up moves, deliberate cuts. Two qualities that bound them all together: Usually, the shots came through contact, and usually, they ended in the bottom of the netting.
Williamson also nabbed a career-high two steals in the victory.
"Obviously, he is a freak athlete, but he's also very skillful," Ball said. "You can give it to him on the break, postups, short rolls, so he can score in a lot of different ways. And that's why it's so hard to stop him."
Williamson made his final eight field goal attempts of the night and led the Pelicans in scoring. Only once has he shot under 50% from the floor in a game this season (against the Bucks when he went 5-for-19); thrice has he cleared 70. Tonight, his 9-for-11 mark was good for 81.8%.
His current 57.4% mark from the field is the best by a player through their first eight career games since Hakeem Olajuwon in 1984-85.
"You're still amazed by it, for sure, you don't wanna get used to that, but other than the Bucks game he's been incredibly efficient every game," Redick said. "You can see the wheels turning a little bit as he's learning how to make reads."
That's the horrifying twist to Williamson's brilliance: He's just getting started. Williamson prides himself on being one that abides by the flow of the game and stays within himself, and tonight, he did just that in his 25 minutes.
With the victory, the Pelicans moved to 4-2 in games Williamson plays more than 25 minutes.
So, is it all starting to come together?
"No, not yet," Williamson said. "I am catching a little bit of a rhythm, but no it's not there yet."
If that's true... Run.