Zion Williamson scored a career-high 43 points as the New Orleans Pelicans staged a spectacular late rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 119-118.
Williamson, 22, scored the Pelicans’ last 14 points as they overcame a five-point deficit at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans.
But his physique drew criticism from Timberwolves guard D’Angelo Russell.
“He plays (American) football; we play basketball. ‘We can’t touch him or keep him,’ Russell said.
Russell and Anthony Edwards both scored 27 points for the Timberwolves.
Williamson was the No. 1 draft pick in 2019 but missed more than a year through injury and faced criticism for his weight.
However, he helped the Pelicans climb to the top of the Western Conference.
“I looked at a lot of old school players and tried to understand their mindset, and all of their mindsets were the same. People remember winners,” Williamson said.
“So whenever the time comes for me to be done with basketball, I want people to say he was a winner. And (teammate) CJ (McCollum) looked at me and said, ‘If you wanna be awesome, now’s the time to step in.’ And that was all the motivation I needed.”
The Brooklyn Nets moved into second place in the Eastern Conference with a 10th straight win.
Kyrie Irving scored 28 points and Kevin Durant 26 in a 108-107 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
“It’s nice to have some stability and win a few games along the way and have fun,” Durant said after a season hampered by poor initial form, the sacking of coach Steve Nash and Irving’s suspension on allegations of anti-Semitism.
DeMar DeRozan scored 42 points as the Chicago Bulls earned a 119-113 overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks, for whom Giannis Antetokounmpo had 45 points and 22 rebounds.
The defending champions Golden State Warriors fought back to beat the Utah Jazz 112-107, their third straight victory.