Kurt Helin

Houston Rockets' James Harden (13) gestures to fans during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Golden State Warriors Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Houston won 132-127 in double overtime. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
Associated Press

Three Things We Leaned Thursday: James Harden vs. Warriors, are you not entertained?

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This was as good an early season night of NBA games as we’ve seen, hopefully you stayed up late for a good one rather than watched The Crown with you wife.

1) James Harden gets triple-double, ends Warriors 12-game winning streak — ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED!?! The Golden State Warriors play the beautiful game — sweet shooters, guys moving off the ball, selflessly passing up good shots for great ones (except Andre Iguodala late in this game, who passed up great for good). James Harden in Mike D’Antoni’s offense with shooters around him is a video game cheat code.

Put those two together and the result was as much fun as an NBA regular season game is going to be.

Harden had 29 points, 15 rebounds, and 13 assists to lead Houston to the 132-127 double-overtime win that snapped the Warriors’ 12-game winning streak. The shooters Daryl Morey brought in last summer to put around Harden did their jobs Thursday — Ryan Anderson had 29 points, Eric Gordon 23. On the other side, Durant added 39. The two teams combined for an NBA record 88 three pointers in one game. You couldn’t take your eyes off this one.

Golden State actually played decent enough defense — they held the Rockets to 103.8 points per 100 possessions, nearly six points off their season average. But the Warriors just missed their looks — they were 12-of-44 from three as a team, with Stephen Curry going 4-of-13 and a cold Klay Thompson hitting 3-of-13 (KD was 3-of-11). As a team, the Warriors were 23-of-50 (46 percent) on uncontested shots. That’s not going to get it done (nor will it happen often). Plus, as with every big game, Draymond Green picked up a technical for kicking someone (Harden in the face this time).

This is the kind of win that boosts the Rockets’ playoff chances — they will slump at some point this season for a stretch, wins like this provide a cushion. For the Warriors, they will shrug it off and keep on winning. A Dec. 1 game is not a playoff predictor of any sort.

But it can be must watch television.

2) What problems? Clippers bounce back, blow out Cavaliers in Cleveland. The Clippers started the season 14-2 and there was a whole lot of “has this Clippers’ core finally figured it out?” questions. Then came the recent, ugly three-game losing streak on the road where the offense stumbled and the bench defense looked disjointed, which led to a lot of, “see, there are the inconsistent Clippers we expect.”

Los Angeles’ answer? Go into Cleveland and blow out the defending world champions 113-94.

The Clippers haven’t answered any tough questions until they can do this on a bigger playoff stage, but this is a more comfortable and mature Clippers team — one that knows it has the sword of free agency hanging over this roster — that looks like it may be able to do just that.

Nobody who knows the game should have thought the Clipper offense would continue to struggle — they have been a top-10 team on that end the previous five years for a reason. The Clippers moved the ball beautifully and had 33 assists on 42 made field goals. J.J. Redick was the hot hand and playmaker in the first half with 21 points. In the second Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the entire team got theirs, the Clippers opened the half on a 13-2 run, they were up 19 at that point and the game was over.

It was over because the Clipper bench played well again — they outscored the Cavs bench by 18 (Austin Rivers and Jamal Crawford each had 12 points), plus played solid defense and sustained the lead they were handed.

The one other unsung standout in this game: Luc Mbah a Moute for the Clippers. All the Clippers ask of their starting small forward is hit some corner threes and defend well — Mbah a Moute was a key reason LeBron James had a 5-of-14 shooting night. He played LeBron as well as anyone is going to, and while LeBron helped out (3-of-7 on uncontested shots, according to NBA.com) the Clipper defender who harassed him deserves credit.

3) Giannis Antetokounmpo is insanely good. With two great games on TNT fewer eyeballs may have found the other games Thursday night, but Giannis Antetokounmpo was beasting in Brooklyn — 23 points on 14 shots, eight assists and eight rebounds, leading the Bucks to the win. The Bucks two best lineups of the night were the starters, and Antetokounmpo with the core bench guys — he was getting into the paint and there’s no easy way to slow him down.

Draymond Green picks up flagrant foul for kicking leg up, catching Harden in face

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Another nationally televised game, another Draymond Green scissor kick that catches an opponent in a vulnerable spot.

Once again it played a key role. The Warriors were down three in the second overtime to Houston with just more than two minutes left. Kevin Durant missed a three and Green made a good hustle play to get the offensive board and go back up, where he was fouled by James Harden.

That’s when Green, as he does, flailed his legs up, and his right leg caught Harden in the face. The replay center reviewed the play and called the original common foul on Harden, but a Flagrant 1 on Green for the kick. The result was Green had two free throws, hitting one, then Harden got two free throws (he hit both), then the Rockets got the ball out of bounds which led to another bucket. At the end of it, the Rockets were up six and went on to get the win.

Green said postgame he did not see this coming.

This is where Green’s reputation did him in. I know there is the argument Green was fouled in the air and kicking out his legs is how he keeps from falling, but at that point you’re over thinking it — your foot comes up high enough to hit a guy in the face, you get a flagrant. It’s a red card in soccer for the same reason — it’s dangerous. As a professional athlete, you have to show more body control.

While this play was key, it wasn’t why the Warriors lost. Nor were the officials, sorry Joe Lacob. The problem was the Warriors shot 1-of-11 in the second OT. Stephen Curry/KlayThompson/Kevin Durant shot a combined 10-of-37 from three. Golden State turned the ball over 17 times.

But the Flagrant foul didn’t help.

Clippers ace first big test of season, blow out Cavaliers 113-94

Los Angeles Clippers' Chris Paul (3) drives around Cleveland Cavaliers' Kyrie Irving (2) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)
Associated Press
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It’s December, not the second round of the playoffs.

The “are these Clippers really different?” question remains.

But faced with their first big test of the season — having three ugly road losses in a row then taking on the defending NBA champions — the Clippers aced it. Los Angeles got red-hot shooting from J.J. Redick, strong defense from Luc Mbah a Moute on LeBron James, and Los Angeles just simply outworked and out-executed the defending champs.

The result was a 113-94 Los Angeles win.

For the Cavaliers, it is the kind of game they can shrug off as one where they just came out flat. It happens. Kyrie Irving did have 28 (and picked up a technical) if you want a bright spot.

For the Clippers, this is the kind of victory that suggests the maturity they will need to get to the conference finals come the playoffs. There’s a lot of basketball between now and May, the big questions remain to be answered, but for a Clipper team feeling the pressure of change next summer, the Clippers couldn’t have looked better acing their first test.

“We actually played to our potential,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said postgame. “I thought we had some adversity, which is great, Chris (Paul) gets in foul trouble, and we actually extend the lead.”

What had gone wrong the last three games — road losses to Detroit, Indiana, and Brooklyn — was a combination of offensive struggles and the bench, which had been playing well early, struggling on defense.

Nobody should have thought the Clippers offensive woes would be a long-term issue. It seemed like this one might be another when Chris Paul got two early fouls, but J.J. Redick was brilliant — 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting, 5-of-6 from three, plus a lot of great playmaking, and that was all before halftime. Redick only finished with 23 because it was plenty because of Paul (16 points, nine assists) and Los Angeles’ ball movement — 33 assists on 42 made baskets.

As for the Clipper bench, they played like they had to start the season and finished the game with 18 more points than their Cavaliers’ counterparts. More importantly, the Clipper bench defense was good all night.

But if you’re talking defense, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute performance keeping LeBron James in check — 16 points on 5-of-14 shooting — was huge. Quietly this season Mbah a Moute has been doing what the Clippers have needed from the three spot for years: play great defense and knock down corner threes. Mbah a Moute is having his best defensive season in years, and he entered the game shooting 42 percent from the corners.

“I thought defensively, we were just locked in, and the reason was we respected them,” Rivers said postgame, not meaning to but throwing shade at Indiana and Brooklyn. “They’re the Cleveland Cavaliers, they get your respect. They get your attention.”

The first quarter had been very back-and-forth, which was good for Los Angels considering CP3’s foul trouble. In the second quarter, the Clippers kept executing and were able to stretch the lead out to 58-50 at the half. Then Clippers opened the second half on an 8-0 run that extended to 13-2 when Tyrone Lue called a time out and should have asked his team if they were tired and just wanted to go home, because they were playing like it.

By the time that run was over the Clippers were up by 19 and the game was never in doubt after it.

DeMarcus Cousins downplays trade rumors while visiting Boston

demarcus cousins
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My guess is every few nights Celtics powerbroker Danny Ainge sits down on his couch around 11 p.m. with his favorite beverage in hand, flips on SportsCenter, sees DeMarcus Cousins highlights, and instinctively calls Vlade Divac just to check. Again.

But everything I — and everyone else — hears is that the Kings are not looking to deal Cousins right now. Until owner Vivek Ranadive changes his mind it’s all moot, something James Ham of CSN Bay Area and I discuss in the latest PBT Podcast.

Cousins and the Kings are in Boston the night after their “rain out,” and the big man did his part to shoot down trade rumors.

The Kings are 7-11 this season, but they are just a couple of games out of the playoffs right now and think that the team is still adjusting to what new coach Dave Joerger wants from them (particularly defensively). Cousins espoused calmness about the latest changes in the system in Sacramento.

The Cousins rumors are not going away — the vultures, in the forms of other GMs around the league, are circling. Other teams around the league believe the Kings have to trade Cousins, sooner rather than later. The Kings know that if they go down that road, even if the get an impressive haul of young players and picks, they are in full rebuilding mode and will be three years away at least from making the playoffs (and they already are in a 10-year playoff drought). First year in a new building, they will be slow to make that move, if they make it at all before the trade deadline.

Which will just mean more speculation.

Tacos!: Bango the Buck makes backward halfcourt shot

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Giannis Antetokounmpo and his 34-point night weren’t the only shooting show in Milwaukee on Tuesday night.

Bango the Buck — yes, the mascot, and one of the best in the biz — showed some range and won a lot of people free tacos with the no-look, over-the-head halfcourt shot. In your face, Dude Perfect.