PHOENIX — The problem Thursday night wasn’t that the Thunder got sucker punched in some sort of trap game.
The problem was that OKC got sucked into a track meet.
Phoenix imposed its will on the Thunder for the final 15 minutes, turning the contest into a shootout before putting a bow on a 128-122 come-from-behind win inside US Airways Center.
The Suns’ point total was the most the Thunder has allowed this season.
Gerald Green, the former Oklahoma State signee, paced all players with a career-high 41 points. He ignited the Suns by splashing in 25 points in a 40-point third quarter by Phoenix. Green hit six of his eight 3-pointers in the period, the last three of which came in the quarter’s final three minutes as he helped the Suns storm back from a 16-point deficit with 3:47 left in the frame.
“They got hot,” said Kevin Durant, who scored 34 points for the Thunder.
Green was on fire.
“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.”
Led by Green, the Suns made 15 of 27 3-pointers. Eight of those came in a second half in which the Suns produced 67 points and sent another reminder to the Thunder that its team defense is currently nowhere close to championship level.
The Suns shot 52.5 percent from the field and attempted 39 free throws, more evidence in a night filled with plenty that there is much work to be done.
“We’ve been talking about it for about 10 days now,” Brooks said. “You’ve got to get back to a defensive disposition when we play these teams who are small and fast and quick. We have to do a better job communicating in transition. We got lost, and we got beat off the dribble too many times.”
The disappointing defensive effort overshadowed an outstanding offensive night, captained once again by Russell Westbrook, who was sensational for the fourth straight game.
Westbrook scored a team- and season-high 36 points on 13 of 22 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds while dishing nine assists and coming up with four steals.
His energy on both ends carried the Thunder through much of the first 33 minutes. But when he took a seat with 5:27 left in the third, the momentum almost immediately shifted to the Suns. He went to the bench with the Thunder ahead by 12. He returned with his team down seven.
“We need to work on defending, being locked in for four quarters,” Westbrook said. “We had some good stretches throughout the game, good five-minute stretches, but we got to play all 48 minutes.”
After surrendering its 16-point lead, the Thunder battled back from a seven-point deficit inside the final nine minutes with the help of three 3-pointers from Westbrook. His pull-up 3 with 4:34 left to play tied the score at 116, and Durant found Serge Ibaka (18 points, five rebounds) under the basket for a dunk that gave OKC a two-point lead.
But Suns point guard Goran Dragic, quiet all second half, then got hot, converting back-to-back layups to put Phoenix back up by two with 2:02 remaining. Markieff Morris finished an alley-oop from twin brother Marcus Morris to push the margin to four with 1:11 left.
Durant hit a jumper at the other end, but Dragic stepped behind a screen and buried a free-throw line jumper to make it 124-120 with 45.3 showing. Durant knocked down another jumper, but once again the Thunder couldn’t come up with a stop. Ibaka fouled Markieff Morris, and he made a pair of free throws to push the Suns’ lead back to four with 24.4 seconds left.
Durant and Westbrook missed 3-pointers at the other end, and Marcus Morris iced the game with two more foul shots.