Some Suns players took exception to Williamson’s slam, which happened with 1.9 seconds left to put the Pelicans up by double-digits. As the clock expired in New Orleans’ 128-117 win, tempers flared as both benches cleared onto the court.
“The game was pretty much over and they just kept playing,” Payne said. “I felt like there was just no sportsmanship and we don’t really like that. We do the right thing. I felt like they should’ve done the right thing and they didn’t. We didn’t take it well and we don’t like to lose either. The game was over, no shot clock. They can hold the ball.”
Pelicans guard CJ McCollum, when asked about Payne’s postgame remarks, gave a simple answer.
“They got to get back on defense if they don’t want us to dunk the ball,” McCollum said. “Get back on defense.”
Replays of the game’s final seconds showed Pelicans coach Willie Green stepping between Alvarado and Paul after the clock expired. When Green stepped in, players and coaches from both teams joined in, though only words were exchanged.
When asked about the dustup afterward, both Alvarado and Paul tried to downplay the event.
“I don’t really remember what happened,” Alvarado said. “I’m just glad we got the win.”
Said Paul: “It’s excitement at the end of the game. It happens all the time and it is what it is. Ain’t nobody fighting. Ain’t nobody doing nothing.”
Alvarado and Paul became very acquainted with each other during the playoffs last season when the Suns ousted the Pelicans in six games. Alvarado, the undrafted player from Georgia Tech, relished going after a seasoned NBA veteran like Paul. In the deciding Game 6, Paul elbowed Alvarado in the face on the way to the goal, chipping Alvarado’s tooth. Alvarado also suffered a kick to the groin from Paul in Game 5 of that series.
Paul was seemingly in no mood to discuss Alvarado after Friday’s game, and Alvarado wouldn’t address Paul by name. Alvarado was originally listed as questionable for the game because of a rib contusion. But it wasn’t enough to keep him off the floor on Friday night.
“I wasn’t sitting out, 100 percent,” Alvarado said. “Not to care about anybody else, but if that person plays, I’m playing.”
Williamson wasn’t available for the playoff meeting with Phoenix because of a broken foot that wiped out his entire year. He said being eliminated by the Suns played a part in why he went up for that final dunk.
“That was a little out of character for me,” Williamson said. “But you’ve got to understand, I mean, you can understand it or not. They sent my teammates home last year.
“I missed all last year. I got carried away a little bit. I admit that. But you know, I was in that locker room when my brothers were down because the Suns sent us home last year. That’s a tough moment to be a part of. So in that moment, I got carried away. I admit that. … If they were to do the same thing, I wouldn’t have no problem with it.”
There won’t be much of a break between the teams either. The Pelicans, winners of six straight, host the Suns, losers of three in a row, again on Sunday afternoon.
While it was the Pelicans and Suns second meeting of the season, it was the first for Williamson, who missed the first game on Oct. 28 with lower back/right hip soreness.
Pelicans forward Larry Nance Jr. said he didn’t believe Williamson’s dunk itself was what caused the benches to clear and that it was more the emotions of the game.
“I think it was just one of those things. You got a lot of high level, high testosterone athletes out there and guys that are big and strong,” Nance said. “I’m glad it got separated before anything stupid happened.”
Williamson finished with a season-high 35 points, seven rebounds and four assists for the Pelicans, who improved to 17-8, tied for the best record in franchise history through 25 games (2002-03 and 2003-04). It also put the Pelicans a game up for the best record in the Western Conference over Memphis and 1.5 up on Phoenix.