NEW ORLEANS — Games like Monday’s are why your momma warned you never to bet.
Losers of eight straight, the injury-ravaged New Orleans Pelicans were down to nine live bodies in a logical mismatch against the Oklahoma City Thunder, flaunting the second-best record in the NBA and boasting the odds-on choice for Most Valuable Player, forward Kevin Durant, the NBA’s leading scorer.
However, behind a career night from Tyreke Evans, who was pressed into emergency point guard service when Austin Rivers was ejected along with Oklahoma City forward Nick Collison for chest bumping each other in the second quarter, the Pelicans recorded a 101-89 win Monday night at the Smoothie King Center.
Despite playing with a bone bruise in his right knee, Evans did anything he wanted. He scored a career-high 41 points — including 32 of New Orleans’ 56 points in the second half — grabbed nine rebounds and dished out eight assists.
The victory snapped the Thunder’s 10-game winning streak over New Orleans, and it also means Oklahoma City will need either a Los Angeles Clippers loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday night or a Thunder victory over the Detroit Pistons in the regular-season finale Wednesday to clinch the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.
“It was one of those nights where I felt like no one could stick me — nobody could guard me out there,” said Evans, who beat every defender the Thunder sent his way while powering to a flurry of driving baskets. “I was seeing gaps and I was finishing strong.
“The knee was sore, but in the moment of the game I was just playing through it. Coach (Monty Williams) did a good job of putting the ball in my hands and letting me operate on pick-and-rolls. When they helped, I found guys and we hit open shots. It starts with our team defense.”
Thunder coach Scott Brooks, who watched his team drop back-to-back games, did not like the way his team failed to stop the ball.
“Tyreke got to the paint too many times,” Brooks said. “He got to the free-throw line too many times (and went 12-for-16 from the line). We tried many guys on him. He just got around us. He’s an aggressive player. He’s a very good player. We didn’t do a good job guarding him. It starts with our team defense.”
Oklahoma City (58-23) rested guard Russell Westbrook on the second night of a back-to-back. Durant came in averaging a league-best 32 points per game, but even though he scored a team-high 25, he needed 23 shots, hitting just nine. Forward Serge Ibaka scored 22 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.
“I’m not making any excuses,” Durant said. “They just beat us. They got whatever they wanted on the offensive end, and it felt like we were just out of it. (Evans) just got to the rim. He was playing one-on-one. We have to try to help each other out a little more than we did.”
Evans kept the Pelicans (33-48) in touch with 15 third-quarter points, most coming on strong drives into the lane, and New Orleans led 70-69 after three quarters. Evans made five of six shots in the quarter.
Durant hit a 10-foot floater in the lane to tie the game at 77, but the Pelicans responded with back-to-back 3-pointers by forward Darius Miller and guard Anthony Morrow to lead 83-79 with 6:26 left. The Pelicans outscored the Thunder 24-12 in the final 7:15.
All the talk afterward was about Evans, who played 42 minutes on a bad knee.
“He wasn’t even going to play today — that’s the amazing part,” Williams said. “I just told him, ‘It’s amazing how the Lord works stuff out.’ He wants to play. We make a last-minute decision to let him go work out (before the game) to see how he felt. Austin gets thrown out, and he has to play the rest of the game and he puts up Magic Johnson numbers.”
NOTES: With his team coming off a 102-97 road loss to the Indiana Pacers on Sunday, Thunder coach Scott Brooks rested G Russell Westbrook. Reggie Jackson started in his place and scored four points. … Brooks said he would consider F Kevin Durant, who averages a league-high 32 points per game, his candidate for MVP. “I follow the league,” Brooks said. “I understand who’s playing well. (Durant’s) played like an MVP for many years, and he’s going to play like that for many more years. It would be a great honor, not only for himself but for the team. Our goal is to be one of the elite teams and give ourselves a chance to win a championship, and he’s put us in that position by the way he’s played consistent basketball.” … The Pelicans waived C Greg Stiemsma, who was signed to a one-year contract, with two games left in the season. They picked up journeyman F Melvin Ely, who scored two points in 10 minutes Monday.
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