Since being drafted as the No. 1 pick in 2019, Williamson has broken a finger, torn his meniscus and broken his foot among other injuries.
CNN  — 

Zion Williamson did not disappoint in his NBA return after 17 months out, as the forward powered to 25 points and nine rebounds in the New Orleans Pelicans’ season-opening 130-108 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

The 2019 draft first pick had not made an appearance since May 4, 2021, after breaking his foot, but was the star of the show as the Pelicans laid down a marker for their season.

Williamson went 11-of-22 from the field and added four steals and three assists in a 30-minute performance full of his trademark aggression mixed with grace.

“Simply playing the game I love that I didn’t get to play for a long time just was a breath of fresh air,” Williamson said after postgame. “There’s a lot of room for improvement. I’m still learning about my teammates. I’m just excited to go.”

The Pelicans put on a show that has justified their tag as one of the most exciting teams in the league. With Williamson’s power in the paint – coupled with a healthy CJ McCollum and an all-around performance from Brandon Ingram, who contributed 28 points, seven rebounds and five assists – the team was firing on all cylinders against a lackluster Nets team.

The Pelicans took a commanding 32-14 lead after the first quarter before seeing the Nets close the gap to eight at halftime thanks to an excellent Kevin Durant – who led the game with 32 points – performance.

All 11 of Williamson's baskets came inside the paint.

But with Kyrie Irving struggling from the field – shooting 6-for-19 and failing to sink any of his six attempts from 3-point range – the Nets were unable claw themselves back into a game that they never led at any point.

The Pelicans pulled away after the break, outscoring the Nets 40-28 in the third, with Williamson going 5-for-6 and completing a superb return to action that drew praise from players on both teams.

“He looked healthy to me, he looked good,” Durant said postgame. “Got up 22 shots, nine rebounds, 25 points. At this point, it’s just typical for him.”

New Orleans head coach Willie Green agreed: “It’s like he didn’t miss a beat, you just throw the ball to him and watch what he does.”

It had been 533 days since Williamson last played in the NBA in what has been an injury-plagued career for the 6-foot-6 former Duke star.

He has only played 85 of a possible 226 career games so far after he tore his meniscus on the verge of his rookie season. Debuting in January 2020, he played in 61 of 72 games the following season, making the All-Star team before suffering his latest set back which made him miss the entirety of the 2021/22 season.

Despite his injuries, Williamson has 45 games with 20 or more points in the paint since his rookie season, a stat which only two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo has beaten. If Williamson can stay healthy, he is set to be one of the scariest players in the league.

Remembering Brittney Griner

Prior to the game, Irving – following on from Steph Curry’s comments before the Golden State Warriors’ win over the Los Angeles Lakers – spoke about Brittney Griner’s detainment in Russia.

Griner celebrated her 32nd birthday in a Russian jail on Tuesday having been detained in the country in February for possession of cannabis oil. The center pleaded guilty to drug charges, saying that she accidentally packed vape cartridges containing cannabis oil when in a hurry.

In August, the eight-time WNBA All-Star was convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison. Next week, her legal team will appeal the decision to the Moscow region court.

The Nets point guard said, “Free our sister Brittney Griner, please. POTUS [US President Joe Biden], do your job, everybody do your job, please bring our sister home.”