Tyreke Evans authors game to remember vs. Thunder

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It was his first official NBA game since April 13, 2011, but what center Melvin Ely will remember most from his return to the league Monday won’t have anything to do with his time on the court. Not long after the New Orleans Pelicans’ 101-89 stunner over the Oklahoma City Thunder, a smiling Ely was discussing his plan to watch a replay of the game, specifically so he could see Tyreke Evans’ 41-point, nine-rebound, eight-assist performance again.

“I think I had more fun watching him play than actually playing,” Ely said. “And I hadn’t played (in the NBA) in three years. I was over there on the bench trying not to act like I’m watching TV. He was amazing. There aren’t many players who could make me want to watch a game again – maybe Kobe, LeBron and a couple others.”

By scoring a franchise-record 32 second-half points, including 17 in the pivotal fourth quarter, Evans’ individual dominance had his teammates and coaches making lofty comparisons to some of the sport’s elite players.

“It was a Magic Johnson night,” Pelicans Coach Monty Williams said, recalling the Hall of Famer and five-time champion many call the greatest point guard in NBA history.

At a sturdy 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, but with the athleticism, quickness and ballhandling ability of a smaller man, Evans used that combination to overpower an array of Oklahoma City defenders the Thunder used on him. Evans finished 14-for-26 from the field, with all but one of his baskets coming from the paint, even though he was a game-time decision with a right knee bone bruise. After repeatedly slicing through the heart of Oklahoma City’s defense, he drained a three-pointer in the fourth quarter from straightaway to give him a new career high of 37 points. His previous top output was 35 points, set with Sacramento during his second NBA season.

“You knew he was fast. You knew he had the game,” said Ely, briefly a teammate of Evans in Sacramento. “But he was in a whole other gear from everybody else on the court. I’m having a hard time thinking of someone who can stay in front of him. He has a football player’s body, a track star’s speed, and he can handle the ball. He’s a difficult matchup. When he has a mismatch and we need two points, he does what all All-Stars do, he goes and gets it. He was amazing tonight.”

“We tried many guys on him, he just got around us,” Thunder Coach Scott Brooks said. “He was getting around us and he got some calls in the second half. He’s an aggressive player. He’s a very good player. Give him credit, he had a career night. We have to do better. We didn’t do a good job of guarding him.”

“He just got to the rim,” Oklahoma City MVP candidate Kevin Durant said. “He was playing one-on-one. We have to try to help each other out a little more than we did. We just have to do a better job.”

En route to his monstrous second half, Evans began to get wherever he wanted on his aggressive drives. He finished Monday’s game with 16 free-throw attempts, sinking a dozen. At one stage of the half, New Orleans put the ball in an isolated Evans’ hands on multiple consecutive possessions, allowing him to capitalize on his elite one-on-one ability.

“When you’re a guy like that, with that kind of mentality, if you get going a bit, you just take off,” Pelicans guard Anthony Morrow said. “He was feeling it. He was getting to the rim and (dunked) it a couple times. It was big. I’m really happy for him that he came through with that performance, especially struggling with nagging injuries. But that’s Tyreke.”

Just 90 minutes before Monday’s tip-off, Evans was not expected to play, after he’d missed Saturday’s loss at Houston with the knee injury. The 24-year-old was also held out of shootaround Monday morning when Williams noticed the player was limping. In a bid to wrap up the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed, the Thunder probably wished the five-year veteran hadn’t been able to make it onto the Smoothie King Center hardwood.

“Kevin (Durant) came up to me in the first half and said, ‘What are you doing playing?’ ” Evans noted in the postgame locker room. “ ’You’re supposed to be hurt!’ ”