Pelicans.com postgame: Pelicans 101, Thunder 89
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
Tyreke Evans wasn’t even supposed to play Monday. Not long before tip-off, New Orleans Coach Monty Williams said he didn’t expect Evans to be available. Yet despite fighting through a right knee bone bruise, Evans not only played against Oklahoma City – he played the best game of his NBA career.
Evans highlighted a stunning New Orleans upset by piling up a career-high 41 points, to go with nine rebounds and eight assists. Despite having only 10 healthy players available, including two who were signed out of the D-League since Friday, the Pelicans (33-48) knocked off the Thunder (58-23), the Western Conference’s second-place team.
“It was obviously a quality win against a team that’s won 58 games,” Williams said of beating Oklahoma City. “Our guys, they continue to fight and stay in there. Tyreke (had) 41, nine and eight and he wasn’t going to play today. That’s the amazing part. They made a last-minute decision for him to work out (in pregame) and he felt great.”
Williams then likened Evans’ performance to that of one of the greatest point guards to ever play in the NBA.
“It was a Magic Johnson night,” Williams said.
“It was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen from a teammate in my life,” Pelicans guard Anthony Morrow said. “He put on a show. He ran the team as well. He did everything.”
“He was pretty amazing,” said New Orleans forward Luke Babbitt, whose 12 points were next in the scoring rundown for the winners. “We didn’t know going into the game if we’d have him. He’s one of the best playmakers in the game, to be honest, for himself and others. He’s a big piece for this team. He's a young player and it's only the beginning for him. This is his first year in New Orleans. He was Rookie of the Year, so he's got a lot of talent. It's fun to watch."
En route to breezing past his previous single-game NBA high of 35 points, Evans repeatedly sliced through the Oklahoma City defense, scoring nearly all of his 14 baskets on aggressive, driving layups. He only had nine points at halftime, but piled up 32 points after intermission. New Orleans trailed 46-45 Oklahoma City at the break, but Evans’ exploits pushed the Pelicans into a 90-82 lead with 4:21 remaining, when he sank a three-pointer. New Orleans led by at least that many points the rest of the night.
“It was one of those nights where I felt like no one could stick me, nobody could guard me,” described Evans, who missed Saturday's loss at Houston due to injury. “I was finishing strong. The knee was sore, but I was fighting through it. Coach did a good job of getting the ball in my hands so I could operate in pick-and-rolls. When (the Thunder) helped (on defense), I was finding open guys.”
Although Oklahoma City didn’t double-team Evans often, it frequently sent help defenders in his direction when Evans started to penetrate. New Orleans needed a big game from Evans to have any chance to win and end an eight-game losing streak, but that became even more critical when Austin Rivers, the team’s only other available point guard, was ejected for his role in a second-quarter scuffle with Thunder forward Nick Collison.
“I knew it was going to be me handling the ball a lot,” Evans said of the Rivers ejection. “I knew it was one of those games where I needed to push through, because we needed to win badly.”
On Monday morning, Evans tried to participate in the Pelicans’ shootaround, but Williams saw him limping and told him to go to the sideline.
“I got some treatment and (trainer Jon Ishop) did a great job,” Evans said. “I did a little warmup, and it was a little sore, but once I started moving around and the game came, I felt a little better. I told (Ishop) I wanted to finish the season strong and just try to get a win, end on a good note with these last two games.”