This was an incredibly fun game at the end of a long, hard season. There are caveats that must be mentioned - the Thunder didn't play Westbrook and had nothing to play for - but the Pelicans were extraordinarily shorthanded and put together a marvelous performance to lock down the Thunder in the first game of their final homestand. With few legitimate offensive threats at his disposal and a ragtag bunch of players that barely knew each other, Monty made a simple decision - put the ball in Tyreke's hands. Evans absolutely poured it on - the Thunder had no match for him.
Guarding Evans with a series of small and defensively questionable point guards (Derek Fisher, Reggie Jackson, even Andre Roberson got a chance to try to stop the Evans train), the Thunder allowed easy dribble penetration by Evans, who was either faster or bigger than his marks, and often times both. That caused the defense to distort significantly, giving Evans options both at the rim or for kick-outs. He finished with an eye-popping line: 41 points on 26 shots, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, and only one turnover. I think that might be the best line for a Pelican all season - only Davis could come anywhere close. Evans's point total set a career high, and his three steals all led to easy offense at the other end of the court.
I said in the preview that we wouldn't learn anything from tonight - that turned out to be demonstrably false. We learned that this team can play really great defense with Withey as the anchor. We learned that Tyreke Evans is a reason for considerable optimism next year. We learned that Darius Miller should probably be a part of New Orleans's long-term plans as a bench contributor and defensive stopper. We learned that even after a long and medically intensive season, this team has a good amount of fight in it.
- I know I mentioned him earlier, but Tyreke Evans was absolutely outstanding. I went back and watched the fourth quarter over again to try to figure out how the Pelicans pulled away, and it was pretty simple - they played good defense, the Thunder committed turnovers, and they handed the ball to Tyreke Evans. Tyreke did everything - he created for other players, he scored in transition, and he drove to the basket. The Thunder put Reggie Jackson, Derek Fisher, Kevin Durant, and even Serge Ibaka (for a bit) on Tyreke Evans, and none could contain him. When we're depressed in the middle of the offseason (and I know we will be), we can look back on this scintillating performance fondly.
- Jeff Withey did what Greg Stiemsma was supposed to do this season. He played great defense, didn't try to do too much on offense, and acted as a fearsome shot blocker when opponents drove into the lane. Late in the fourth, he blocked several key shots that gave the Pelicans easy transition offense. You can tell that his timing has improved a lot during the season, and he's learning when to contest shots and when to just let them go. I'm not sure exactly how the Pelicans are planning on using him next year, but I really hope he averages more than ten minutes per game.
- Austin Rivers was having a very nice game until he had a spat with Nick Collison in the second quarter. The double ejections were probably warranted, but they certainly hurt the Pelicans more than the Thunder, which seemed a bit unfair given that it seemed that Collison was the more guilty party - that cheap shot to the back of Rivers in transition was pretty bad.
- The Pelicans weren't that great beyond the three-point arc, shooting just over 30%. Anthony Morrow went 1-5, part of another off night for him. Darius Miller only made two of seven, and Evans missed six of his seven attempts, the only weak part of his game tonight. The Bobbitt was the only bright spot, making three of six, including a huge one late in the fourth to answer a three by Durant - that shot was the dagger.
- Darius Miller and Al-Farouq Aminu drew the assignment of Kevin Durant, and they performed admirably. He didn't seem particularly plugged into the game, to be fair, but Aminu and Miller both played well. Perhaps Miller has a future as a three and D player - he just needs to get better at threes and d.