Three things to know: Kyrie Irving takes star turn, Nets knock off Celtics

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The NBA season is into its second half, and we will be here each weekday with the NBC Sports daily roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed in the Association, every key moment from the night before in one place.

1) Kyrie Irving takes star turn, scores 40, Nets knock off Celtics

The defensive strategy against most teams boils down to “cut off the head of the snake.” Against Dallas, slowing Luka Doncic and getting the ball out of his hands becomes the focus. Against Portland, it’s Damian Lillard. Against the Bucks, it’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Good luck trying that with Brooklyn. Focus on stopping James Harden and two other elite scorers get more room to dominate.

Thursday night against Boston — and still playing without Kevin Durant — it was Kyrie Irving’s turn to take over for Brooklyn. He dropped 40 on his former team — including scoring eight points in a late 13-3 run that sealed the game — leading the Nets as they pulled away for a 121-109 win.

Irving was cooking, and it’s a joy to watch him play the way he did Thursday night (unless you’re Brad Stevens). He was draining deep threes, hitting impossible to stop little 10-12 foot fadeaways, and when Boston made a defensive mistake (like Kemba Walker going over the screen here, leaving Daniel Theis isolated against Irving), he made them pay.

This is Brooklyn’s 11th win in 12 games, and it followed the pattern of those other wins: elite scorers doing their thing (Harden had 22 and flirted with a triple-double) while Brooklyn played solid, average defense — Boston had an offensive rating of 112.4, right about the league average.

The bigger concern for Boston fans? Brooklyn’s bench was much better than this one. Actual starters vs. starters minutes were fairly even (Irving, even with his 40, was +1 for the game). The benches were the difference. Landry Shamet had a strong night for Brooklyn hitting six threes for 18 points, but everyone on the Nets bench was a positive.

Boston got Marcus Smart back and that will help as he finds his form again, but Grant Williams, Jeff Teague, and Payton Pritchard all struggled. Danny Ainge has work to do on this roster if the Celtics are going to be a threat to teams like Brooklyn come the playoffs. Right now, the Nets are just playing on a higher level.

And soon Brooklyn gets Kevin Durant back.

2) Rockets, P.J. Tucker agree to part ways; team looks for trade

P.J. Tucker has been available via trade since the day after James Harden got his wish to go to Brooklyn. Maybe before.

Yet Tucker is still a Rocket. He was frustrated enough with the situation that he told the Rockets he would not play in Thursday night’s game against the Kings, and he will be away from the team until he is traded (or bought out). Rockets coach Stephen Silas confirmed all this right after the Kings handed the Rockets their 14th straight loss.

There are teams interested in Tucker — the Lakers, Bucks, Heat, Nets, and others — but the Rockets want a quality young player back in a trade, not just more picks (they got plenty of those from Brooklyn). That is what has slowed talks, teams are reticent to give up young players they like.

Houston has been willing to wait it out, feeling the trade deadline’s pressure would get some team to flip and put a player they want in the mix. Tucker isn’t willing to wait any longer. He’s out, and he’s very likely played his last game ever as a Houston Rocket.

3) Tony Snell game-winner? Atlanta will take it, beats Toronto

John Schuhmann of NBA.com noted a telling stat after the game: Tony Snell has shot 58% on catch-and-shoot threes this season. Those things find their way into NBA team scouting reports, specifically so teams don’t do things like leave Snell open for a catch-and-shoot three in a clutch situation.

Toronto forgot that note.

Atlanta was down two with 7.1 seconds left and had the ball for one final shot. The Hawks wisely got the rock to Trae Young to let him create, he drove into the lane, and the entire Raptors defense followed him — all five Toronto defenders sagged below the free throw line.

Snell recognized it. He had been in the weakside corner but relocated to an open space on the wing. Young had the vision to see Snell — he didn’t make the easy relief valve pass out, he found the harder to locate open man — and it led to the shot of the night.

Atlanta got the kind of win it needs more of — against a team above it in the standings — if Nate McMillan and company are going to climb up into the postseason. It was a good way to start the second half of the season.