When it came to toughness, Tyreke Evans had no choice.
As the youngest of five boys who always found himself being pushed around whenever they did let him join in whatever they were doing, the Pelicans point guard was told that he not only would have to play hurt, he couldn’t even show it when he was.
“Once you’re out there, you’re out there,” Evans said. “That’s how I take it.”
Fast-forward to Monday night in Oakland.
With his left knee throbbing from the same bone bruise that had limited him to just 12 minutes two days before in the Pels’ playoff opener against Golden State, Evans raised his hand to signal he needed to come out.
Then he changed his mind and stayed in, eventually playing 41 minutes and scoring 16 points with 10 rebounds and seven assists in a 97-87 defeat.
Only in the closing minutes when Evans could not muster his normal fearless moves through defenders as he attacked the basket for one of his seemingly impossible-to-practice layups was it obvious he was hurting. Evans made just 4 of 13 shots and 7 of 12 free throws.
“I just felt like I had to suck it up,” Evans said Wednesday as the Pelicans prepared for Game 3 against the Warriors.
That’s something Evans has been doing all season, fighting off various ankle, shoulder and knee ailments to play a team-high 79 games.
Good thing for the Pels that he has. In his sixth season, Evans, the league’s 2010 Rookie of the Year when he was with Sacramento, has become Mr. Versatile.
He began the season as the (reluctant) starting small forward, chiefly because there was no alternative.
Then he moved to shooting guard while Eric Gordon missed 21 games, and finally to point guard when Jrue Holiday was injured over the last half of the season.
Evans even found time to squeeze in three games as the sixth man; that was the role he played for most of last season, his first with the Pelicans after four years with the Kings.
At 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, Evans has the size and speed plus the shooting and ball handling skills to handle whatever’s thrown his way. His averages — 16.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 6.6 assists — reflect that, along with the fact that he and Anthony Davis are the only players to lead the team in all three at least once.
“I don’t think I’ve figured out what I am yet,” Evans said. “I’ve learned a lot changing positions so much. Whatever the coaches want from me, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Evans’ attitude has gained the admiration of his coaches and endeared him to his teammates.
“Reke just played through his injuries like he did the other night,” Davis said. “He’s tough as nails and does so much for this team.”
Added assistant Fred Vinson, who is Evans’ player development coach: “He just loves the game of basketball. That’s one thing that I don’t think every player in this league can say. He has a passion for playing.”
That passion had to be tempered somewhat by his four seasons in Sacramento. The Kings never won more than 28 games.
Maybe that’s why Evans decided he would not attend a playoff game until he was actually playing in one.
But after coming to New Orleans in 2013 in the three-team trade involving Greivis Vasquez and Robin Lopez, Evans, the No. 4 pick in the 2009 draft after a one-and-done college career at Memphis, was finally on a team that broke the 30-win barrier.
But he saw the platform for this year’s playoff run.
“We had a chance to be in the playoffs last year, but with all of the injuries, we could never put the pieces together,” Evans said. “All we had to do was stay somewhat healthier this year.”
That the Pelicans have, which must make Evans being banged up when he finally gets to the big stage a little bittersweet, especially with his team down 0-2.
“It’s been tough,” he said. “Golden State has turned it up a notch, and we’re going to have to, too. But there’s no reason to think we’re not going to come out of this next game with a win.”
And as for how much he can go Thursday?
“My knee felt better today,” he said. “I’m getting treatment, so hopefully it will get better tomorrow.”
And if not? It’ll probably be like the pregame conversation between Evans and coach Monty Williams before Monday’s game.
“Monty said I should have the doctor look at it,” Evans said. “But he looked kind of like, ‘We need you.’ This is my first playoff. It was never in my mind that I wasn’t going to play.”
He sure doesn’t want to explain why not to those older brothers.