Lakers hang on to beat Pelicans after Zion has to leave game late with injury

Zion Williamson’s first-ever playoff game looked like it could be a signature moment. He was on fire, scoring 40 points and leading a comeback from 18 points down in the third quarter to tie the game with 3:13 left.

And then his body betrayed him.

The Lakers got key buckets down the stretch from LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell, plus Los Angeles hit its free throws, and the Lakers hung on for a 110-106 victory.

With the win, the Lakers advance as the No. 7 seed and will face the defending champion Denver Nuggets — who swept the Lakers out of the Western Conference Finals last season then beat them all four meetings this season. Game one is Saturday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern in the Mile High City.

The Pelicans will play again on Friday night against the winner of the Warriors and Kings 9/10 showdown for the right to enter the playoffs as the No. 8 seed.

The question is, will they have Zion on Friday? Coach Willie Green gave a postgame update on Zion and called it “left leg soreness,” with an MRI coming on Wednesday. He did not know what part of the leg was injured and there were no other details.

The Lakers are now 3-0 in play-in games in their history. Last season, they came out of the play-in to make the Western Conference Finals. LeBron James led the way in this one with 23 points (on 6-of-20 shooting), nine rebounds, and nine assists. Russell was hot early and finished with 21, while Anthony Davis had 20 points, 15 rebounds, and three blocks.

Green deserves credit — along with Zion — for the Pelicans comeback because he did something coaches rarely do: He benched his stars when they didn’t have it. CJ McCollum was off (4-of-15 shooting on the night) and Brandon Ingram, just returning from an injury, was 4-of-12 from the floor. When the Pelicans started to make a run with Jose Alvarado and Trey Murphy III in the game, he kept his stars on the bench. McCollum eventually got back in late, but Ingram did not play at all down the stretch — and that was the right call by Green.

It almost worked, but everything has to go right to beat LeBron James in the postseason.

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