It wasn’t the first time Patrick Williams faced the monster before.
Heck, the Bulls hosted Zion Williamson and the Pelicans in the preseason opener, with Williamson being Williams’ main assignment.
Just in case, however, leading up to the showdown with the 2019 overall No. 1 pick, Billy Donovan showed the film and reminded the entire team of what was coming.
“There’s certain teams or individual players that when you’re watching them on film, the film doesn’t do it justice, and clearly he’s one of those guys,” Donovan said of Williamson. “Like a team that’s really fast in transition, and you know they’re really fast, but like the film doesn’t do it justice. Then all of a sudden they get out there and it’s like, ‘Woah.’ Zion is that kind of player where, ‘OK, this guy is quick, he’s explosive, he’s big.’ But you don’t realize it until you’re actually in it.”
In the second half on Wednesday, the Bulls were in it, and knee-deep.
After holding Williamson to just four points in the first half, Williamson and the Pelicans turned it around, holding on to beat the Bulls 115-111.
Williamson scored 15 points in that second half, but it was also the attention he drew on double-teams that allowed the rest of his teammates to rally late.
And while New Orleans (6-5) had a Zion, the Bulls had a DeRozan.
With 1:24 left in the game and down one, veteran DeMar DeRozan drew the foul and hit both free throws. Brandon Ingram and DeRozan would trade baskets, but after Ingram hit a 19-footer with 39.7 seconds left, DeRozan drove in for the floater. One problem, and a big one, as Williamson redirected the shot, allowing Jonas Valanciunas to grab the defensive rebound.
Williamson was fouled with 19.4 seconds left, splitting the pair to make it a three-point game.
Out of the timeout, it seemed like DeRozan would have the chance to play hero yet again, getting the pass from Goran Dragic on the inbound.
He didn’t catch it cleanly, though, as it bounced off his foot and went out of bounds.
“There was a three-point shot on, as well as a two. Just a read-the-defense situation,” Donovan said of the play.
A read DeRozan wouldn’t have a chance to make.
“That was on me,” DeRozan said of the turnover. “Wasn’t on anyone else. I tricked it off, should have caught it. It’s just frustrating when we don’t give ourselves a chance to see what would happen by making mistakes.”
That turnover left the Bulls (6-7) no choice but to foul, and Herbert Jones made them pay, making both.
Ingram finished with 22, but it was Williamson’s aggressiveness, especially in the third quarter when Ingram was in foul trouble, that turned momentum.
“Zion can do it off the dribble, he can get in the paint, and you bring a big crowd at him, he shoots it, misses it, and he’s off the floor before anybody else,” Donovan said. “He’s such a unique player.”
One that they had under wraps early.
Whether it was the Bulls defense or simply the flow of the game, Williamson took just two shots the first half, scoring four points. The Bulls did blitz him with double teams at times, but he also seemed like he was easing himself into the game.
That changed coming out of the halftime locker room, as Williamson not only attacked the hoop to start the third, but helped put the Bulls on their heels, as the visiting team jumped out to its biggest lead of the game, going up 11 before Donovan called a timeout to try and slow the bleeding.
They did temporarily, but not when it mattered most.