New Orleans overcomes depleted lineup in 101-89 win
Nursing a right knee bone bruise, it was a surprise when Tyreke Evans suited up to play the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night at Smoothie King Center.
Evans wasn’t done with surprises. Playing point guard after the second-quarter ejection of Austin Rivers, Evans drove for a career-high 41 points and had nine rebounds and eight assists in leading the Pelicans to a 101-89 victory.
“He wasn’t supposed to play tonight,” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “Instead, he had a Magic Johnson game.”
The win against the Thunder (58-23), fighting to secure the second seed for the Western Conference playoffs, ended an eight-game losing streak for the Pelicans (33-48), a team depleted by injuries to eight players. New Orleans also ended a 10-game losing streak to the Thunder dating to 2011.
“It was one of those nights where I felt no one could stick me, nobody could guard me out there,” said Evans, who scored 32 points in the second half. “I was seeing gaps and finishing strong. The knee was sore, but in the moment of the game, I was just fighting through it.”
Oklahoma City (58-22), playing the second of games on back-to-back days, played without starting point guard Russell Westbrook and looked fatigued or uninspired. It was the second consecutive loss for the Thunder, which fell Sunday at Indiana. However, with the Los Angeles Clippers breathing down their necks, the Thunder can clinch the spot in the season finale Wednesday against Detroit in Oklahoma City.
“We just didn’t have it,” said Thunder small forward Kevin Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer who is expected to be chosen this season’s MVP. “We missed shots. We just couldn’t get it going. We kept fighting and they made an extra push, and we couldn’t catch up.
“(Evans) just got to the rim. We have to try to help each other out more than we did. We just have to do a better job.”
Durant scored a team-high 25.
Rivers, the only point guard remaining on the roster, and OKC backup forward Nick Collison were ejected at 7:56 of the second quarter for shoving each other after Rivers alleged that Collison elbowed him while setting a pick on the other end of the court. Rivers finished with eight points.
Evans took over. He sealed the outcome with 17 points in the fourth quarter.
After neither team had more than a two-point lead since late in the third quarter, Darius Miller and Anthony Morrow sank consecutive 3-point shots that gave the Pelicans an 83-79 lead midway of the fourth.
Evans then drove, resulting in two free throws, and hit a big 3-pointer 50 seconds later for a 90-82 lead at 4:19. When Jeff Withey blocked Serge Ibaka’s shot at the rim, and Evans then drove for a basket at the two-minute mark, the lead was 94-85.
New Orleans went into the fourth quarter clinging to a scant 70-69 lead, mostly because of Evans, who scored 15 points in the third quarter. Driving relentlessly to the basket after Thunder misses, Pelicans steals and in the half-court offense, he made five of seven free throws.
The Pelicans’ last four points in the third came on layups by Evans.
The Pelicans took a 58-56 lead at 6:04 of the third quarter on a drive by Evans, their first lead since 7:40 of the second quarter. From there, there were four ties, but the Pelicans did not relinquish the lead.
New Orleans trailed 46-43 in the second quarter, but Evans made a steal, drove the length of the court for the basket and was fouled by Durant with 2.1 seconds left in the first half. However, he missed the free throw leaving the Pelicans behind by one at halftime.