Williamson had 28 points, nine rebounds and five assists and once again shot over 50% from the field. He even attempted a season-high 16 free throws. The problem, however, was that he made only eight of them — and missed two crucial ones down the stretch.
So instead of going through his normal postgame routine, Williamson walked back out onto the floor at the Smoothie King Center and took extra shots.
He started his shooting routine under the goal and worked his way back to the free throw line. He needed to make at least 10 in a row before moving on to shoot at seven different spots around the 3-point line. When it was all said and done, and at least 100 shots or so later, Williamson spent 40 minutes working on his technique before speaking to reporters.
When asked why he went back out, his answer was simple.
“Y’all saw the game, man,” Williamson said.
He explained that this isn’t something that’s new for him, although he’s never done it on the floor at the arena before. He likes to find another gym, he says, and he’ll get shots up after losses or even after wins sometimes.
But Wednesday’s game felt different.
“I really felt like I let my team down, man,” Williamson said. “It’s like I tell y’all, I never want to let them down. All those free throws, it can’t go down like that. I gotta be better in those situations. If I want to be one of those great players, I gotta take a lot of responsibility and be ready for those moments. Right after the game, I just felt like I had to go back on the court and find my flow.”
Improving his free throw shooting was a key focus for Williamson entering the season after he shot 64% from the line a year ago. After he got off to a rough start, shooting 53.1% in his first four games, Williamson and Pelicans assistant Fred Vinson started to work on his shot some more.
In February, Williamson’s free throw percentage was up to 74.6%, and it was 70.7% heading into Wednesday’s game.
But after Williamson missed his first two free throws against the Bulls, he felt like something was off.
“I do feel like I was overthinking it,” Williamson said. “I feel like when I missed the first two, I started to think maybe I’m doing a lot of things wrong. I probably talk to Fred [Vinson] and Fred would probably say, ‘Oh, you didn’t load correctly,’ or, ‘You didn’t follow through properly.’ That’s Fred. I think I did overthink it when it was probably just one small thing and it probably would’ve went in.”
Williamson ended up missing his first four free throws but hit seven of his next eight. But he went 1-of-4 from the line in the fourth quarter, including missing two with 1 minute, 23 seconds to go that could have cut the lead to two for Chicago as the Pelicans tried to erase a 19-point lead.
The Pelicans fell behind because of their leaky defense, which has been a cause for concern all season for New Orleans.
Getting that fixed — more so than any individual or team offensive issue — is what the Pelicans’ focus has to be on if they want to continue to fight for a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“For us right now, our offense is fine,” Williamson said. “But we just, we gotta play great defense for four quarters. We have our moments where we play great for 3½ some games or we’ll play great for four, but tonight we started off the game slow.
“That was really the tone-setter. I know we hear it a lot with our defense, but we gotta do it. I still do feel like we’re close to it. It’s the NBA. Winning’s not easy. But I trust my teammates and my coaches, and we’re going to find it and we’ll figure it out.”