Before the Phoenix Suns' Thursday night matchup with the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder, Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic spoke with multiple members of Jeff Hornacek's remarkable team about the individual and collective improvements that have propelled the Suns, who were picked by many to contend for the league's worst record, into the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase. Shooting guard Gerald Green downplayed his own leap forward.
“I still feel like I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot to prove," he told Coro. "I still have so much that could get better.”
He took the next step toward proving it Thursday, turning in a career-best performance that breathed life into a reeling Suns team, totally turned the game around and helped Phoenix earn perhaps its best win of the season.
Green scored 41 points — not only a career-high, but also the highest single-game NBA total by anyone who has played in the D-League — on 12 of 22 shooting, including an 8 for 13 mark from 3-point range, to go with five rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block in 41 minutes of play. Twenty-five of those points came during the third quarter, as Green scorched his way to a 7 for 11 mark, making 6 of 7 3-pointers and hitting 5 of 6 free throws; he scored 14 points in the final 3:03 of the frame, which saw the Suns turn a 16-point deficit into a three-point lead heading into the fourth.
The game remained tight late, thanks to Russell Westbrook (who scored 13 of his 36 points in the fourth quarter) and Kevin Durant (seven of his 34). But rising star point guard Goran Dragic combined with the frontcourt tandem of twins Markieff and Marcus Morris to score Phoenix's final 12 points and push the Suns to a 128-122 win that was equal parts impressive, as Phoenix beat the best team in the West without still-injured star Eric Bledsoe, starting center Miles Plumlee and reserve guard Leandro Barbosa, and important, as it moved Phoenix a half-game ahead of the Dallas Mavericks into the seventh seed in the Western Conference.
The Suns did all that by relying on a guy on his seventh team in a seven-year NBA career that was interrupted by a two-season stint in Russia to go toe-to-toe and shot-for-shot with two All-NBA scorers. It worked, in part, because Green's never viewed himself as that kind of also-ran journeyman. From Coro:
“I’m not trying to be selfish, but I want it every time,” Green said. “I’m not afraid to take 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 to do that yet. I’m still trying to prove myself to this team and this league. Every day, I’m still trying to get better."
Green came within one 3-pointer of tying the franchise record for made 3s in a game (nine by Channing Frye and Quentin Richardson) and did tie Shannon Brown’s franchise record for 3s in a quarter (six) in the third quarter. Green scored 25 third-quarter points, also coming within a point of that franchise record set in 2002 by Stephon Marbury (26 vs. San Antonio). [...]
Green said at one point he heard Suns coach Jeff Hornacek yelling, “Shoot it!” before he caught a pass in transition.
“I felt like everything I shot was going in,” Green said.
All that confidence — that coach Hornacek has in him, that he has in himself — has manifested in a campaign that has some discussing the 28-year-old Green among the leading contenders for the league's Most Improved Player Award. Coming into this season, Green had posted three 30-plus-point games in 272 NBA contests over the span of six years. Thursday's was his fourth of this season, in 60 games. The 41-point career-high surpasses his previous career high of 36, set less than two weeks ago in a win over the Denver Nuggets.
Given a chance to play a major role at the two-guard with Bledsoe sidelined by right knee surgery and a steady diet of shots — especially from beyond the arc, where he's pulling the trigger nearly eight times per 36 minutes of action — Green has responded. He's shooting 38 percent from deep, which makes the volume of those attempts go down quite a bit easier, while using the respect he's gained as a jump-shooter to his advantage when it's time to blow past a too-close defender on his way to the rack, where he's still showcasing his springs on a nightly basis:
He's still an iffy defender prone to getting lost off the ball, and he's still not an exceedingly reliable secondary ball-handler and playmaker, but he's taken strides in those areas while doing the main things asked of him — hit catch-and-shoot jumpers (15th in the league in points scored on such shots, according to NBA.com's SportVU player tracking data) and use your quickness and explosiveness to be a monster in transition and in finding daylight off screens (1.24 points per possession and 1.19 points per possession, respectively, according to Synergy Sports Technology). He's been extra sharp of late, too, entering Thursday's action averaging nearly 21 points and five rebounds on 46/40/86 shooting splits over his past 12 games.
Green's in a big-time groove right about now, and the Thunder didn't do very much to get him out of it on Thursday, as their head coach told Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:
“He had an amazing game,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He’s having an amazing year. He’s very athletic. Give him and their coaching staff a lot of credit. He has really taken his game to another level. He’s a knockdown 3-point shooter. We couldn’t control him, and we have to do a better job with that.”
Don't beat yourself up too much, Scott — apparently, not even Green's own coach knew he had that in him.
"We knew he could shoot the ball. But we didn't anticipate the way he can get hot and make shots," Hornacek said, according to Mike Tulumello of NBA.com. "There's not many guys who can get on a roll like that."
Apparently, Gerald Green is one of them. Not bad for a guy who was out of the league two years ago, huh?
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After allowing the Indiana Pacers to erase a 12-point deficit over the second half of the fourth quarter to knot their Tuesday night matchup at 96-all, the Golden State Warriors still had the ball with 10.9 seconds left and a chance to go for the win on the road at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Needing a win to keep pace in the brutal fight for playoff positioning at the bottom of the Western Conference bracket, head coach Mark Jackson called the number of the less-famous "Splash Brother" ... and Klay Thompson delivered:
Nothing too fancy or intricate there — just the Warriors recognizing that the 6-foot-7 Thompson was being guarded by 6-foot-2 Pacers point guard George Hill, dumping the ball into the post and letting Thompson go to work on the mismatch. Hill's a strong, long-armed defender, but the 205-pound Thompson was able to back him in, spin back toward the baseline to create separation, and elevate for the jumper.
At that point, there was no cavalry riding in to save the Indiana point guard; Thompson calmly drained a 12-foot fadeaway to give Golden State a 98-96 lead with 0.6 seconds remaining. An attempted game-winning 3-pointer by Paul George went long — but, like, just long, getting just a bit too much of the back rim — from 29 feet at the final horn, as the Warriors were able to hold for a 98-96 victory despite being giving up a 13-point lead in 4 1/2 minutes.
They did so thanks in large to Thompson, who led Golden State with 25 points on 10 for 20 shooting, including a 3 for 5 mark from 3-point range, to go with five rebounds, two assists and a block in 41-plus minutes. Sixteen of those 25 points came in the final frame, as the Warriors had to look for a secondary option with perimeter-defending ace George blanketing Golden State All-Star Stephen Curry, who managed just one field-goal attempt (which he missed) and three turnovers in 5:45 of fourth-quarter burn.
It was a nice bounce-back game for the third-year pro out of Washington State, who missed 11 of 15 shots in the Warriors' Sunday loss to the Toronto Raptors, and who's largely been alternating strong and weak performances over the past couple of weeks. Luckily for Jackson and company, Thompson was the good kind of bad on Tuesday — must be that goatee — to help Golden State score its first win in Indiana in seven years, handing the Pacers just their fourth home loss of the season. The Warriors improve to 37-24 with the win, giving them a one-game lead over the Phoenix Suns and Dallas Mavericks for the sixth seed out West.
David West (27 points on 10 for 17 shooting, seven rebounds and two assists in 33 1/2 minutes) and George (26 points, albeit on 23 shots, 12 rebounds, four assists in 40 minutes) led the way for the Pacers, who got just 11 points from their bench — Evan Turner and C.J. Watson combined for one point on 0 for 7 shooting in 30 1/2 total minutes — to see their five-game winning streak snapped as they fell to 46-14. Luckily for them, the Miami Heat couldn't capitalize on their opportunity, losing a tight game to the Houston Rockets to stay two games back of Frank Vogel's Pacers in the race for the top seed in the Eastern Conference.
If the clip above isn't rocking for you, feel free to check Klay's game-winner out elsewhere, thanks to Beyond the Buzzer.
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Our circular table of Mavericks discussion included talks about the Dallas bench unit. Also: cheesecake. Why would you sit at a table if you weren't going to eat cheesecake?
Carter's struggles to start his season made some people worry whether he was done, but he's come back with a bang and might even make a push for Sixth Man of the Year.
27 points from Dirk Nowitzki wasn't enough to keep pace with the powerful Nugget offense, and Dalas loses its third straight game.
Nate Timmons with our friends over at Denver Stiffs was kind enough to answer a few questions for us ahead of tonight's matchup!
After back-to-back losses to Denver in November, the Nuggets come to Texas for a prime time match-up.
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