Evans, Pelicans stun Thunder
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Not long after Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he expected Tyreke Evans to take the night off to rest his sore right knee, Evans surprised his team by suiting up.
Then he stunned the Oklahoma City Thunder with one of the best performances of his career.
Evans scored a career-high 41 points to go with nine rebounds, eight assists and three steals, and the New Orleans Pelicans snapped an eight-game skid by topping the playoff-bound Thunder 101-89 on Monday night.
"It was one of those, man, where I felt like nobody could guard me out there," Evans said. "The knee was sore but I was just fighting through it. … It was just one of those games where I wanted to win, no matter what it took."
Evans made 14 of 26 shots while scoring mostly on quick, powerful bursts to the hoop. He also scored 12 points at the foul line and hit a clutch 3 — turning and pounding his chest as the shot went through — to put the Pelicans ahead 90-82 with 4:21 left.
"He wasn’t going to play today. That’s the amazing part," Williams said.
Kevin Durant scored 25 points for the Thunder, who have lost two straight and won’t lock up the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs without at least one more win or a Los Angeles Clippers loss.
"I’m not making any excuses. They just beat us," Durant said. "They got whatever they wanted on the offensive end and it felt like we were just out of it."
With Oklahoma City having played in Indiana on Sunday, coach Scott Brooks chose to rest point guard Russell Westbrook, starting Reggie Jackson in his place.
Jackson, however, was not a factor offensively for much of the game, finishing with four points and three assists.
Oklahoma could hardly complain about being short-handed, though. With all five early season starters and its best scorer off the bench out for the season, New Orleans had only one regular point guard among 10 players in uniform.
That was Austin Rivers, who was ejected, along with the Thunder’s Nick Collison, after the pair got into a scuffle with 7:56 left in the second quarter.
Evans, normally a shooting guard, took over at point guard after that and went on to score 37 of his points.
"I knew I had to take over with Austin out," Evans said. "We needed a win — bad."
The Thunder generally refrained from double-teaming Evans, instead switching the players assigned to defend him.
"We tried many guys on him. He just got around us," Brooks said. "Give him credit. He had a career night. We have to do better. … It starts with our team defense. We don’t focus on one guy scoring points. We focus on them scoring points."
Luke Babbit scored 12 points, hitting a late 3 to help seal New Orleans’ first victory over the Thunder in 11 meetings, dating to Jan. 24, 2011. Darius Miller and Alexis Ajinca each had 10 points, and rookie center Jeff Withey blocked four shots.
Serge Ibaka had 22 points and 16 rebounds for Oklahoma City. Caron Butler added 19 points, but after making six of his first seven shots, he did not score in the fourth quarter.
Durant played below his usual standard, missing 14 of his 23 shots and not reaching double figures in scoring until his driving floater with 4:35 left in the third quarter.
Three nights earlier in Oklahoma City, the Thunder opened up a double-digit lead on reeling New Orleans in the first half and was up 25 after three quarters en route to a 116-94 victory.
Things changed back in the Big Easy, where the Pelicans are 21-19.
"We weren’t just going to give them layups and dunks the way we did when we were at their place a few days ago," Williams said.
New Orleans held a slim lead most of the first quarter and the game got testy in the second, when Rivers was angered by a prolonged screen Collison set on him.
Rivers pushed his way out of the screen and soon after the two were shouting at each other as they followed the action to the Pelicans’ offensive end. Rivers then lunged violently at Collison, and the Thunder big man shoved back vigorously.
Minutes later, Oklahoma City led by as many as six on Butler’s 3, but New Orleans closed the half with Anthony Morrow’s short jumper and Evans’ layup after he’d intercepted Thabo Sefolosha’s pass, cutting Oklahoma’s lead to 46-45 at halftime.
NOTES: The loss prevented Oklahoma City from becoming the only NBA team with 60 wins in each of the past two seasons. … Evans’ previous career-high in scoring was 35 poin