Evans Dominates, Pelicans Beat the Thunder

Published: April 14, 2014

Tyreke Evans the Pelicans brought it right at the heart of the Thunder defense all night long, and it paid off. Evans dropped a career high 41 points and got just enough help from his friends for the Pelicans to pull off a 101-89 upset.

New Orleans came out with some fire in the first quarter, avoiding mistakes and playing fine enough offense that they were able to hang with a Thunder team that on paper they had very little business competing with. Tyreke was driving and kicking all over the place and the Pelicans were content to let it fly from downtown. They attempted 9 bombs in the first quarter, making three of them. Heading into the game their season average was only 15.8 three point attempts per game, so seeing nine early was a nice surprise.

Midway through the second quarter with the Pelicans leading by one, we got some drama! Austin Rivers retaliated to what he felt was a cheap shot by Nick Collison by repeatedly slamming into him. The result was a double ejection for fighting, despite no actual fighting taking place. With Rivers out, the banged up Tyreke Evans was the only point guard type player left on the floor for the Pelicans, placing Monty Williams in yet another difficult situation. Some days he has to wonder if he’s ever going to catch a break out there (spoiler– he caught one!)

It wasn’t long after the dust up that the Pelicans offensive game became a bit frantic to say the least, but despite a few minutes of rather ugly basketball they hung with Thunder. Ajinca in particular was playing well on both ends, and it was his presence in the middle, especially early, that at times solidified an otherwise shaky defense.

At the end of two the Pelicans trailed by just one, fueled largely by Ajinca and Evans. Despite Rivers limited contribution, his impact was felt and he finished with 8 points and 2 assists on just 4 shots. It would have been nice to see him keep playing as he’s been solid as of late, although considering Tyreke’s output follwing Austin’s ejection, perhaps it was for the best.

Westbrook was sitting out for the Thunder, and Durant had a very quiet first half, scoring just 9 points to go with 4 assists. Ibaka added 11, and Caron Butler was on fire, putting up 14 points on a mere 5 shots.

Quarter three began with a few Ajinca free throws, but then Tyreke time started. Without hesitation he decided that a one on three break was a good move. He was right. A three point play ensued and just like that the Pelicans were tied with the Thunder at 50. Evans kept pushing the issue, and following a couple free throws he put a nifty move on Durant with 6:03 left in the quarter to give the Pelicans a 58-56 lead, bringing the crowd to their feet.

Evans kept being aggressive when play resumed, and he finished the quarter with 15 of the Pelicans 25 points. Nearly every play was run through him, and the results were hard to argue with. This is the Evans that Dell thought he was signing last offseason to run his second unit. It’s a shame we never really got to see that vision come to fruition. There literally was not a Pelicans turnover in the third quarter, and as a result they led 70-69 to start the fourth quarter.

The Thunder came out with a small and young lineup to start the fourth, with Durant still playing a very passive game. He was still disengaged early in the fourth quarter. Tyreke had no such issues, and came out with the same fire he displayed in the third quarter. Good thing, because the rest of the Pelicans didn’t do too much to help him offensively early on.

A flurry of action closed out the first six minutes of the second half– a disputable block on Babbit and the resulting fast break turned what would have been a five point game into a single point difference. Miller hit a three, Andre Robinson (Thunder) followed with a layup, and then Morrow, an ice cold 0-4 at the time from long range, nailed a deep ball to give the Pelicans a five point lead.

Kevin Durant seemed more intent on making his presence felt after a short commercial break, but Tyreke Evans would have none of it. He reached his career high with about four minutes to go in the game, and scored 11 straight points for the Pelicans before Kevin Durant nailed a three pointer to cut the lead to seven.

No biggie. Luke Babbitt wasn’t worried. He nailed a three pointer to get the lead back to 10 with 1:46 left and that would be more than enough to coast to victory. When it was all said and done the Pelicans beat the Thunder 101 to 89, breaking a losing streak that spanned all the way back into 2011.

In the end Evans scored 41 points on 26 shots to go with 9 boards, 8 assists, 3 steals, and just a single turnover. The 41 points are the most scored by a New Orleans player since David West donned the creole blue. Evans did this against the second best team in the Western Conference despite being surrounded by recent second round picks and replacement level players (at best in some cases).

The way he did it? By driving over and over and over. The Thunder were simply unable to keep him out of the paint, and he pressed the issue all night long instead of settling for jumpers as he’s sometimes inclined to do. The three point shooters that surrounded him didn’t crush it, but they were adequate enough and made a few when they needed to. The spacing they created allowed for Evans to get the advantage inside when he drove, resulting in either easy buckets or free throws. Love it.

Oddly enough, he was a game time decision.

Tonight was obviously Tyreke’s night, but the rest of the gang played well also. I want to run through the lineup and say one nice thing about everyone, just because that game was awesome and they all deserve it for contributing to such a great experience.

I would take Austin Rivers in a fight against Nick Collison any day.

Ajinca had a great first half. Without him, I don’t think the Pelicans would have played the Thunder roughly even in the second quarter.

Aminu managed to snag 5 of the Pelicans 10 offensive rebounds even though he played only 21 minutes.

Babbitt’s three pointer late in the fourth extinguished the spark that Kevin Durant had finally managed to create. That shot was huge.

Darius Miller did a lot of things right, but containing Kevin Durant was the most impressive. His late three ball was key but it was on the defensive end that he really made an impact.

You have to give Melvin Ely credit. He doesn’t miss a beat. It’s been years since he’s been here and he’s still throwing up air balls like it’s his job. In all seriousness the airball wasn’t his fault…this time. He used to frustrate me so much, but for some reason I was happy to see him out there again.

Anthony Morrow was pretty cold all game, but when he and Miller connected for back to back threes it was exactly what the doctor ordered.

Jeff Withey played a hell of a game on both ends. He’s never going to be a star, but to see this much improvement in only his first season is a good sign that he can be a contributor for years to come. He had four blocks, none bigger than his swat of Serge Ibaka with 2:57 left in the fourth. He his a really nice hook shot earlier in the game that I would love to see substantially more of going forward.

James Southerland made a free throw. It’s true.

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One thing I want to mention is that in the pregame I said that the Thunder had clinched the second seed already. That was in fact not the case. My only excuse is that the blood moon (1 am for those in New Orleans) has destroyed my brain

I kid.

It was actually widely reported by the AP and others that they clinched the second seed against us a few days ago. See?  My pregame search of “Thunder” and “clinch” led me to the false headlines, and the rest is history.



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