PHOENIX — Quick transition push off a rebound? Hit Gerald Green for a three. Inbounds play? Make sure he comes off a screen somewhere, anywhere really, atop the three-point arc.
It’s an easy game to play when a shooter like Green is hot. And hot he was on Thursday night. The Suns shooting guard scored a career-high 41 points on 12-of-22 shooting and 8-of-13 accuracy from behind the three-point line.
The outburst pushed Phoenix past the class of the Western Conference, the Oklahoma City Thunder, 128-122. Jeff Hornacek’s team stuttered at times but thrilled at others, making for the loudest eruptions a snoozing U.S. Airways Center has heard all year long. It was an important win for the Suns in terms of the playoff race, but it was a perfect picture of how this season has gone.
Mostly, the season has gone so well because of player development, and that was a similar theme to how the Thunder have built a dynamic franchise in a small market.
“We’re an organization that’s trying to mimic ourselves to being the same type of team they are,” Green said afterward, as usual reluctant to speak too much about himself.
Kevin Durant scored 34, and Russell Westbrook topped his teammate with 36, nine assists and nine boards. Alongside them, the versatile project Perry Jones put together zeros after a fine night last time out against the Philadelphia 76ers (12 points, six rebounds, three assists and two blocks). Center Steven Adams wouldn’t do anything more than grab a rebound, while Suns rookie Alex Len contributed six points and three rebounds in limited minutes.
But then there was Green, all rebooted.
“He can do that,” Hornacek said afterward. “We’ve seen that several times this year. He’s a guy that is working on his consistency. He’s either really hot or really cold. I’d say these last 25, 30 games, he’s been very consistent. His bad games are, maybe a 5-for-13 or something like that, and then he doesn’t keep jacking them up.”
It went hardly mentioned that Green also got the foul stripe 11 times, nabbed three steals and had two assists.
Of course, the day was about his hot shooting. Much of his damage came in transition. Oklahoma City seemed prepared to race up and down with Phoenix, playing small ball and enticing Hornacek to run out his own small lineups. The pace picked up even as both teams hit buckets with ease.
Even though Green didn’t take a shot in the first 17 minutes, he caught fire.
Phoenix led just briefly when the score read 3-2 and quickly lost track of the Thunder in the first quarter. The Oklahoma City lead grew to 16 with 3:47 to play in the third, and that seemed to be the end of the Suns’ hopes. But a stagnant offense awoke behind backup point guard Ish Smith pumping the pace back to where Phoenix likes it. Green scored 15 points as part of a 21-2 Suns run to end the third, allowing them a 101-98 lead heading into the fourth.
The final two points came when Andre Roberson fouled Green on a three-point attempt as if acknowledging it was the only way to stop him.
“The thing that makes him unique is, some guys you can get up in to and maybe challenge the shot a little harder,” Hornacek said of Green, hours after he had gone over something similar when referring to Durant. “Gerald just jumps over the top of everybody and shoots it. These guys are playing good defense.”
But Green wasn’t the only one scoring in bunches.
The Morris twins, finally tapping into the potential that led to the Suns drafting one and trading for another, contributed 39 points, nine boards and five assists. Markieff had 24 points, all on the elbows or in the paint, and many of those points came against Ibaka. Markieff drew seven fouls on the Thunder, a tool he and his twin didn’t quite know how to use last season.
“They got great moves inside,” Hornacek said. “They got a size advantage, they can back a guy in and make a turnaround. Tonight, Markieff realized that they were coming a little bit on him (with double-teams), so he went quick. They were smart post-up moves.”
Added Green: “Markieff to me is the Sixth Man of the Year. Those two twins, man, it’s almost remarkable to have both those guys on the same team.”
Behind a confident gunner, two developed big men and a late-round draft pick — Goran Dragic scored 22 and hit key buckets late — the Suns sure were mimicking the Thunder for a night.
Hornacek on the Suns fixing themselves after 11 first-half turnovers: “Westbrook is like a Chris Paul. If you’re not a point guard, don’t try to drive by those guys because they’ll steal the ball on you. I think we just got smarter. Good, crisp passes, didn’t try to force anything.”