NEW ORLEANS — Like a doting father, Kentucky coach John Calipari scarcely could contain his pride Tuesday night watching some of his finest young thoroughbreds show the strides they have made as NBA players.
Calipari had just witnessed Tyreke Evans, his pedal-to-the-metal guard from his coaching days at Memphis, and forward Anthony Davis, his prized pupil from Kentucky, combine for 43 points and 26 rebounds to power the New Orleans Pelicans to a 110-106 victory over the Phoenix Suns, snapping the Suns’ six-game winning streak.
In town for a fundraiser, Calipari said greatness for both is on the horizon. Calipari also got a chance to see former Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe, who scored 21 points for Phoenix.
“I just told Anthony, ‘You know how good you are? You stunk today and you got 19 (points) and 18 (rebounds),'” Calipari said. “And before I came today, I told Tyreke, ‘I want to see you sprint the floor today,’ because that was my thing when he played for me. He made all good plays.”
Evans took Calipari’s message to heart, scoring 24 points, including eight in the final 1:32 and 10 in the fourth quarter. Davis had a quiet 19 points but manhandled the Suns with a season-high 18 boards.
“I just tried to get every rebound,” Davis said.
It was the Pelicans’ sixth victory in their last seven home games and improved their record to 16-15, one game behind the Suns (18-15) for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference. Calipari couldn’t resist the urge to do a little arm-chair coaching.
“(Tyreke) has found a good home (in New Orleans), and he and Anthony have connected,” Calipari said. “Now, he’s got to figure out throwing lobs to him. Like I just told Anthony, ‘You can’t let (defenders) muscle you. Just turn and run and let (Tyreke) throw it to the rim.’ I’m not trying to coach them, but they’re my guys.”
With the game tied at 100, Evans put up a 3-point attempt from the left wing that hit the front of the iron, but he hustled to scoop up the rebound and then was fouled going to the basket. He made both foul shots for a 102-100 lead with 93 seconds left. It was a pure hustle play that Pelicans coach Monty Williams said was a do-or-die.
“We really don’t allow that,” Williams said. “It’s a broken rule for us, and so my thing is if you do that you’d better get it. He knows that. He got the ball. If you lose that (rebound), they’re gone and they’re going to get a layup of a shot at a three, but sometimes you have to allow guys to make plays. That’s what makes really good players great.”
After Pelicans forward Dante Cunningham intercepted a pass on the other end, Evans nailed a 17-footer for a 104-100 lead. Bledsoe answered with a driving layup to cut the deficit to 104-102, but Evans responded with a scoop shot in the lane to make it 106-102.
Phoenix guard Goran Dragic, who led the Suns with 22 points, hit a layup with 14.6 seconds left to cut the margin to 106-104, but Evans and reserve guard Jimmer Fredette iced the game with four free throws in the final 14 seconds.
Evans laughed when asked about Calipari’s pre-game message to him.
“He said it was like when I was back in my Memphis days and I was pushing the ball — he likes it when I push the ball and put the pressure on the defense,” Evans said. “I play like that most of the time anyway. I just wanted to be aggressive. I can’t stop being aggressive and attacking the basket.”
Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek said his team made a valiant effort but could not overcome the Pelicans’ 51.9 percent shooting (42-of-81), which included 8-of-18 from 3-point range. The Suns had averaged 18.5 fast-break points a game but couldn’t get their running game going.
“It’s tough to run when they’re taking the ball out of the basket all the time,” Hornacek said. “You can’t give a team 52 percent on their home court.”
The Pelicans overwhelmed the Suns in the paint, outscoring them 58-48.
“Coach was emphasizing that we try to stay in front of their guards because their strength is driving the lane and getting to the hole,” said point guard Isaiah Thomas. “We didn’t do the best job of it. Tyreke had a big fourth quarter.”
NOTES: G Jimmer Fredette had a season-high nine points playing for Pelicans reserve F John Salmons, who was not with the team because of a personal matter. … Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said his three-guard lineup (Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe and Isaiah Thomas) was effective at the end of the first half and the end of regulation during a six-game winning streak because opponents found it hard to match up defensively. “If we play those three guys all the time, there’s not going to be many minutes for some of our other players,” Hornacek said. “All three of those guys have played well, and that’s why we’ve been able to go with that particular lineup. Those three guys are pretty good defensive players. When they lock in and focus on trying to stop someone, they’re pretty good.” … Pelicans coach Monty Williams said he wants to make the Smoothie King Center “a special place.” The Pelicans are now 10-4 at home.
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