In his first basketball game since April, Tyreke Evans played 31 minutes Tuesday night. He scored 20 points. He dished out 10 assists.
It wasn’t enough for Evans.
“I wanted to play more, actually,” Evans said after making his season debut in a 113-104 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at the Smoothie King Center.
He wanted to do more, too, he said, to help his team get a needed win. But despite the return of Evans and backup guard Norris Cole — and despite a blistering first quarter in which New Orleans shot 70 percent — the Pelicans fell to 4-14 on the season with a game at Houston looming Wednesday night.
But neither Evans nor anyone else who took the court for New Orleans had an answer for Memphis’ Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies center scored a career-high 38 points on 11-of-22 shooting. He made all 16 of his free throws, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked four shots.
“He made some tough shots and he also got some easy looks,” Evans said. “He went to the line a lot. When you’re feeling like that in the league, the basket’s as big as the sun. Every time he put it up, he felt like it was going in.”
The Pelicans tried Alexis Ajinca — inserted into the starting lineup along with Evans, whose start moved Eric Gordon to the bench — on Gasol. They tried Omer Asik and Anthony Davis.
And despite a 38-27 lead at the end of one quarter and a 14-point lead early in the second, New Orleans sputtered in the second half, struggling on defense and stagnating on offense as the Grizzlies pulled away to win.
“Even when we were going pretty good at the start of the game, it was mainly our offense,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We didn’t do a very good job of stopping them, even in that situation.”
Even the offense went south after the start. The Pelicans scored just 39 points in the second half after putting up 38 in the first quarter.
Still, there were bright spots, none brighter than Evans, who played for the first time this season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee in late October.
In addition to a double-double, Evans grabbed five rebounds and blocked a shot. He made 7 of 12 field goals. He gave the Pelicans a slashing scorer they’ve lacked most of the season
“It was really great,” forward Ryan Anderson said. “He’s just a special player. He’s a guy that draws so much attention and makes smart plays. I think he showed great stretches tonight.”
Evans’ return moved Gordon to the a reserve role, one the veteran guard said he’ll accept, though he’s rarely played it in his career. Gordon played 19 minutes and scored eight points, and he was off the floor late in the game in favor of Cole, who played 22 minutes in his first game this season after suffering a high left ankle sprain in the preseason.
“It’s tough when you have two of your key guys come back and all the lineups are messed up and everybody’s trying to get back accustomed to each other,” said forward Anthony Davis, who shot 4 of 15 but had 17 points, 14 rebounds and a career-high-tying nine blocked shots. “But that’s not an excuse. We still got to come out and play defensively.”
And though there were issues offensively – the ball stuck on one side of the floor, Davis said, in the second half after swinging side to side in the first – the Pelicans’ biggest questions remain on defense, where they’re the least-efficient team in the league.
The Grizzlies shot 47.8 percent and got 52 points in the paint.
“I take responsibility for where we are,” Gentry said. “I’m the coach of the team, so some kind of way I’ve got to get through to these guys where we got to get better defensively.”