PHOENIX — Judging by the loud pregame cheers when Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant was announced Thursday night, many of the fans inside US Airways Center were there to see the MVP contender work his magic.
Instead, they got the Gerald Green show.
Green erupted in the second half to finish with a career-high 41 points and lead the Suns to a comeback win over the Western Conference’s best team, 128-122.
"I just felt like everything I shot was going to go in," Green said. "Every look I got was a pretty good look."
Not quite everything went in for Green in a scorching third quarter, but his 7-of-11 shooting was good enough for 25 points, most of which came on six 3-pointers.
"Is that all?" Suns coach Jeff Hornacek joked of Green’s third quarter total. "When you’re feeling it like that I think you just want the ball anywhere in your vicinity and you’ll grab it and shoot it."
Green eclipsed his previous career high of 36 points, set last month against Golden State. His eight 3s were two more than his previous career best and one shy of the Suns’ franchise record.
Green’s phenomenal night gave the Suns (36-25) the lift they needed on a night Durant and sidekick Russell Westbrook combined for 70 points — 34 of them Durant’s. Durant extended his streak of games with at least 25 points to 27, tying Allen Iverson for the second longest such streak in the last 25 years. Westbrook’s 36 points were a season high.
None of it was enough to stop Green and the Suns, who snapped the Thunder’s 11-game winning streak against them.
"They got hot at the right time," Durant said. "Gerald Green hit like five or six in a row, and that just lifts the whole team."
Green, of course, didn’t do it alone. Even after he had collected his 41 points, the Thunder retook the lead with just over four minutes left in the game. Markieff and Marcus Morris combined for 14 points in the fourth quarter and Goran Dragic added six points in the quarter to finish with 22.
It was Green, though, that sent the crowd into a frenzy amid a 25-3 Suns run — 14 of those points Green’s — which erased a 16-point deficit in the third quarter. It was his night.
"Gerald — unbelievable," Dragic said. "He was hitting every shot. It was a huge night for him."
Perhaps as amazing as Green’s night overall was that he essentially did it in three quarters. In eight first quarter minutes, Green didn’t even attempt a shot. He didn’t score at all until more than two minutes into the second quarter and went to the locker room at halftime with 11 points.
Green’s 25 third-quarter points fell just one shy of tying Stephon Marbury’s 2002 franchise record for points in a quarter. His six 3s in the period tied Shannon Brown’s franchise record from 2012.
"I was feeling it, man," Green said. "Guys were finding me in transition, finding me off screens and I was just being really aggressive.
"I’m not trying to be selfish or anything, but I want it every time. I’m not afraid to take the big shots, I’m not afraid to take any type of shots. I want to embrace those shots. I don’t think I’ve earned (the right) to do that yet. I’m still trying to prove myself to this team and to this league. Every day I’m trying to get better, and I ain’t done nothing in this league."
Green is sure starting to do something. The former first-round pick — 18th overall to the Celtics in 2005 — appears to finally be meeting the expectations that followed him into the league. Before coming to the Suns, Green played for six NBA teams and spent two seasons playing in Russia.
Green is averaging a career best 15.6 points after Thursday’s performance and keeps surprising the Suns, who knew he could shoot when they acquired him with Miles Plumlee from Indiana for Luis Scola and a first round pick in the offseason but didn’t quite expect this.
"We knew Gerald would get some good looks for us, but we didn’t anticipate the way he can make shots and get hot," Hornacek said. "There’s not many guys in this league — obviously Durant is probably one of them — that can just get on a roll like that and make shots."
Hornacek said Green has also built up to more consistent efforts since the beginning of the season, when he was prone to score more than 20 points one night and fewer than 10 the next.
Green’s emergence is just one piece of what has the Suns shocking the league and fighting for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. On a night the Suns beat the West’s best and a potential first round playoff opponent, Green had no trouble maintaining that perspective, setting aside his strong season and big night in favor of a greater purpose.
"I haven’t made my goal yet, which is to make the playoffs," Green said. "I want to be part of a winning team that makes the playoffs. So if we don’t make the playoffs, then to me I feel like my season was unsuccessful."