Tyreke Evans could hear the instructions, could heard the Washington Wizards telling each other to go under screens when he had the ball outside the 3-point line Friday.
The Pelicans guard has never reacted better to it in his career.
Evans made a career-best five 3-pointers — part of a franchise-record 16 for New Orleans — in Friday’s 107-105 win against the Wizards at the Smoothie King Center.
“When I heard them say ‘Go under,’ I just stopped and raised up,” Evans said after scoring a season-high 27 points. “Shot it how I shoot it in practice.”
It looked like shooting practice at times on Friday for the Pelicans, particularly in the fourth quarter.
New Orleans trailed by as many as nine in the final period, but sparked mostly by a small lineup of Evans, forward Anthony Davis and guards Ish Smith, Jrue Holiday and Eric Gordon, the Pelicans rallied to win.
After a first half in which New Orleans shot 52.3 percent but let the ball stagnate and made difficult shots, offense came easy in the fourth quarter. The Pelicans had nine assists on their 23 first-half field goals. In the second half, they had 12 assists on 16 made baskets. In the fourth quarter, New Orleans assisted on seven of nine made baskets.
“We just had to try to move the basketball,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “We’re still holding on to it a little too much. I thought when we moved the basketball and moved ourselves and kept the court spread, I thought we did a good job. When we get bogged down is when we’re dribbling it too much.”
Four of those fourth-quarter assists came from Smith, who “changed the tempo of the game” in the second half, Gentry said. But he wasn’t the only change.
Gentry stressed ball movement at halftime, Gordon said, and it showed in the second half.
“He’s been preaching it all year,” said Gordon, who scored 15 points. “When we keep that ball moving and everybody’s acclimating themselves and knocking down shots, it’s a fun game.”
It helped that the Wizards made a point of taking away Davis, who finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds on 15 shots, but who often found him double-teamed by a smaller defender — usually swingman Jared Dudley — and a big.
“Accept the double team, get the ball out as soon as the double team comes and swing, swing (the ball),” Davis said of his approach to the game. “I think that’s why we were able to make 3’s tonight, too, because we did a great job of executing our double-team game plan. “
The Pelicans finished 16 of 27 from 3-point range. They made six of 10 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, all of the makes coming after Washington took an 86-77 lead with 10:04 to play on Dudley’s 3-pointer.
Davis tied the game at 103-103 on a 3-pointer with 2:35 to play, and his free throw with 1:47 remaining gave the Pelicans the lead for good, 104-103.
The Wizards got 26 points and 12 assists from John Wall, whose layup with 10.9 seconds to play pulled Washington within a point at 106-105. But after Holiday lost the ball, tied it up and won a jump ball against Dudley, Evans made 1 of 2 free throws to put the Pelicans in front by two, and Gary Neal’s long jumper missed at the buzzer.
The win was critical for the Pelicans, who traveled to Chicago after the game for a Saturday date with the Bulls, the start of a five-game road trip that will include games at Portland, Utah, Phoenix and Denver.
Gordon called the road swing “a make-or-break situation” for New Orleans, which was five games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference after its Friday win.
The Pelicans will have to play “a little bit better” on the road, Davis said, than they did against the Wizards. But the game at least provided a blueprint for success.
“We were putting (passes) on the money and guys were stepping into their shots and knocking them down,” Davis said. “Tyreke was feeling it, Jrue, everybody. That’s how we got to play. It doesn’t matter who scores as long as the ball goes in the basket.”