It never hurts to have a Plan B when things don’t go as they should.
The New Orleans Pelicans are a team built around All-Star forward Anthony Davis and his ability to dominate games on a nightly basis.
But with New Orleans’ young superstar missing Sunday’s game against the red-hot Golden State Warriors with a chest contusion, the Pelicans had to turn to someone else on the roster to provide that “alpha dog” presence in the absence of Davis.
As he has done on several occasions since arriving in New Orleans, Tyreke Evans answered the bell.
The Pelicans’ guard/forward had a season-high 34 points, seven rebounds and five assists, but an eight-point overtime scoring outburst from Warriors guard Stephen Curry was enough to help the Warriors beat the Pelicans 128-122 at Smoothie King Center, extending the Warriors’ winning streak to 16 games.
“Our guys fought their tails off tonight, we just came up short” Pelicans coach Monty Williams said. “To have a chance to win against the best team in the league says a lot about our guys. … (Pelicans guard) Jrue (Holiday) and Tyreke, I thought I may have played a little too much tonight.”
Evans’ explosive performance came on the heels of him scoring 31 points on 13-of-24 shooting and adding 10 assists in Friday’s 119-114 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers after Davis left the game seven minutes into the first quarter.
He came alive during an 11-0 run in the third quarter that saw the Pelicans turn a double-digit deficit to a three-point lead with 2:29 left in the period. Evans assisted on back-to-back 3-pointers by Ryan Anderson and Dante Cunningham, and followed that up by finding a streaking Jeff Withey for a breakaway dunk.
Evans completed the run with two putback layups off of offensive rebounds that ignited the crowd and gave the Pelicans an 85-82 lead.
“We moved the ball. I think we kind if controlled the tempo the way we did against Cleveland,” said Anderson, who finished the night with 15 points and six rebounds.
The former fourth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft put together another scoring streak in the fourth quarter to assist the Pelicans on a 12-3 run. Evans scored eight points during that stretch and his 3-pointer with 5:01 left in the fourth quarter gave the Pelicans a 105-97 lead.
Sunday’s contest was the first game Davis has missed this season, but Evans played in 12 of the 16 games that Davis missed during the 2013-14 season and averaged 16.6 points, 4.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds — excluding a Dec. 13 game against the Memphis Grizzlies, in which Evans left after 12 minutes with an ankle injury.
Evans showed up in a major way when the Pelicans needed him most during the final two games of last season. The injury-riddled Pelicans were without five of their top six scorers and Evans was one of the few playmakers left on the roster who wasn’t out for the season.
“I think he’s more comfortable with what I’m trying to do,” Williams said. “I’m more comfortable with him having the ball. It looks like he’s more comfortable with our system.”
In games against the playoff-bound Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets, Evans exploded, averaging 33.0 points, 9.0 assists and 7.5 rebounds — all numbers that greatly exceeded his regular-season totals.
Evans’ most impressive outing of the year came in the season-finale against the Thunder, in which Evans went head to head with the eventual league MVP Kevin Durant and dropped 41 points, nine rebounds and eight assists on the way to pulling off a 101-89 victory.
“I think at the end of the season, I kind of got going when I found my niche with the team,” Evans said. “I figured out how I wanted to play. After that, I just wanted to take all of that into this season and try to build on it.”
When Evans signed a four-year, $44 million deal to join New Orleans last season, General Manager Dell Demps and Williams thought Evans could be a superstar backup — a player that could dominate games as a reserve.
But instead, may be his destiny is to be a backup superstar.