For the first time this season, Tyreke Evans earned his preferred nickname of “’Reke Havoc."
The New Orleans Pelicans guard, who has been playing with a minutes restriction since returning from his third surgery in nine months, inflicted all kinds of damage on the host Brooklyn Nets in a 104-95 victory Thursday night. The dynamic guard came off the bench to score a game-high 29 points on 15 shots, including a 14-point flourish in the decisive fourth quarter, to seal a critical comeback win with a shorthanded roster.
He filled the void left by Anthony Davis, who missed his third game of the season while recovering from a hip pointer suffered in Monday’s win at the New York Knicks. Davis was listed as questionable for Saturday’s 4 p.m. game at the Chicago Bulls, meaning there could be pressure for Evans to live up to his nickname again.
“I talked to A.D. before shootaround, and he said, ‘Brah, I can’t go.' So I told him it was time to ‘Reke havoc,’ and that’s what I did,” Evans said Thursday night. “I stepped up. And the other guys stepped up, too.”
It allowed the Pelicans to win their first set of consecutive road games this season and move within two games of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference, keeping pace with the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets.
In the bigger picture, Thursday’s win proved Evans is returning to form as a reliable late-game scorer and a weapon to employ next to Davis in crunch time. He tallied his highest scoring output since Dec. 14, 2014, and did it more efficiently than at any time in his four seasons in New Orleans.
“I’m feeling good,” Evans said. “(Coach Alvin Gentry asked if) I want to sit down and come back in because I was about to go over my minutes (restriction). I said, 'I’ll do whatever we have to do to win.' That’s the type of guy I am. The limited minutes for me made me have some ups and downs, and I’ve been trying to figure it out. But I’m getting better and better and working hard on my knee every day, and I’m feeling good right now.”
Evans logged 28 minutes, including the entire fourth quarter, to smash his 16-minute average since returning Dec. 15.
While Evans admitted his right knee still isn’t at full strength, he showed no signs of rust in the final quarter, getting to the rim with ease by dribbling past guards and plowing through the front court. He made 5 of 7 attempts in the period without trying a 3-pointer, choosing to return to his hard-driving roots. He also dished a pair of assists and collected three steals, helping seal the Pelicans’ first win this season without Davis.
“I thought Tyreke Evans did a really good job attacking the basket; that’s kind of what he is,” Gentry said. “We tried to put him in a situation where he would be going downhill, and I thought he did a great job with that.”
A healthy Evans is a potentially dynamic addition to the rotation. Although he played in 11 games leading up to Thursday, he only showed brief flashes of being the reliable finisher his reputation was built on.
During the Pelicans’ run to the 2015 playoffs, Evans averaged 16.6 points and converted 48.5 percent of his shots inside the arc as the team’s second-best offensive player. So when the Pelicans were without one of the NBA’s best scorers Thursday, Evans merely returned to form.
“That’s Tyreke, man,” point guard Jrue Holiday said. “He’s going to find a way to get to the basket. He’s tough. He’s determined. And he’s a hooper, man. He’s a scorer.
"He’s going to find any way possible to score — especially down the stretch when we need a bucket, he’s going to get to the basket or knock down a jumper to do it.”
Pelicans 3-pointer: at Bulls
The Pelicans visit the Chicago Bulls at 4 p.m. Saturday in the United Center. Here are three things to know:
1. Big Apple binge
The Pelicans have won consecutive road games for the first time this season by successfully sweeping through New York. New Orleans averaged 107 points in the two games, despite playing five quarters without All-Star Anthony Davis, who suffered a hip pointer in Monday’s win against the Knicks.
The Bulls slipped to the outside of the playoff picture on the heels of a three-game losing streak. Chicago’s offense skidded to a halt, failing to eclipse 100 points throughout the skid and dropping games to Oklahoma City, Washington and New York while falling to ninth in the Eastern Conference.
3. Jones owns
Without Anthony Davis in the lineup, Terrence Jones posted one of his most effective outings of the season Thursday, taking the middle in the Pelicans’ small-ball lineup as they outscored the Nets 31-16 in the fourth quarter. Jones’ 24 points were his second-best scoring output of the season.