Three Things to Know: On big stage, Durant steps up while Harden melts


Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks going that make the NBA great.

1) On big stage, Durant steps up while Harden melts

The real winners from this game: The Milwaukee Bucks and Miami Heat. They look far more like deep, versatile, battle-tested, playoff-ready teams set to make deep runs than the flawed teams that took the court in Philadelphia Thursday.

That said, Thursday night in Philadelphia may not have been a playoff game but it felt like one.

Philadelphia fans filled the building with emotion — mostly anger at Ben Simmons, and they let him hear it early — and legends such as Allen Iverson and Dr. J showed up and sat courtside. The 76ers were 5-0 in games James Harden played since he was traded for Simmons, and with the Nets in town fans were eager for the honeymoon to continue.

Then a familiar big game/playoff game pattern returned:

Kevin Durant stepped up and was the best player on the floor — he has two Finals MVP trophies for a reason.

James Harden didn’t get the foul calls he is used to early, struggled against a pressure defense, and faded into the background shooting 3-of-17 on the night. It fits a career arc that has seen him struggle in big playoff moments.

The end result was a blowout 129-100 win for the Brooklyn Nets, who dominated the game from the opening tip.

Brooklyn threw out some exploitable defensive lineups early, but the Nets also played with playoff energy and physicality, something the 76ers could not match. Durant and the Nets were not backing down.

Durant and Kyrie Irving were putting up numbers — a combined 47 points on 52.9% shooting with 18 rebounds and 12 assists — but they got real help with Seth Curry and James Johnson stepping up with quality games.

Doc Rivers has some work to do. Joel Embiid is a good rim protector and the Sixers have Matisse Thybulle. Still, there are places to attack a team with James Harden on the court for heavy minutes, plus has to lean on DeAndre Jordan for backup minutes at center (or play Shake Milton and others). When Harden is on, the 76ers can overwhelm with offense, but his playoff history suggests the 76ers will need to find other ways to win games when it really matters.

The Nets just brought that message home.

2) Yes, Philadelphia fans did get a chance to boo Ben Simmons

Thursday’s game was the hottest ticket in Philadelphia in years because Sixers fans wanted to vent their anger and frustration at Ben Simmons. They were mad because he melted down last playoffs. They were angry because he held out this season saying he was not mentally ready to play while waiting for a trade. He was not playing on Thursday, but he was in the building and on the bench.

He could hear the “f*** Ben Simmons” chants from the crowd. Simmons also heard it when he came out and went through a light pregame warmup.

When Simmons dunked the ball — something he did not do in a critical moment against the Hawks in the playoffs a year ago — he got a Bronx cheer from the Sixers faithful.

The problem for the Sixers is Durant and Irving heard all those boos and chants, too, and they came out ready to have their teammate’s back. See item No. 1 on this story to see how that went.

3) Steve Kerr may have found closing lineup, Warriors beat Nuggets

It’s still some serious small sample size theater, but Steve Kerr may have found part of his closing lineup: The three-guard combo of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole have a +40.3 net rating when on the court together so far this season. Kerr used that trio — with Kevon Looney and Andrew Wiggins — to close out against the Nuggets Thursday, and Poole was up to the challenge.

Poole’s 3-pointers iced the game and the Warriors beat the Nuggets 113-102.

Stephen Curry had 34 points on the night, Poole finished with 21 off the bench.

Nikola Jokic continued to put up MVP numbers: 23 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists.

Unlike the earlier game Thursday, this one didn’t feel like a playoff game, mostly because of who was not suited up to play. Draymond Green, Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. watched this one. These teams will look different come the playoffs (Green says he returns Monday, substitute him for Looney in the Warriors closing group and Kerr may have his new death lineup).

Still a quality win for the Warriors on the road.

Highlight of the Night: Bones Hyland leaves fellow rookie Kuminga in his dust

Bones Hyland, this is just nasty.

The steal, the behind the back, and then the move that left Jonathan Kuminga standing there looking lost.

Players noticed.

Yesterday’s scores:

Brooklyn 129, Philadelphia 100
Golden State 113, Denver 102

LeBron James passes Magic Johnson for sixth all-time in assists

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Magic Johnson is one of the greatest, most creative passers the game has ever seen.

Friday night, LeBron James passed Magic for sixth all-time in assists in the NBA. For LeBron, doing that in a Lakers’ jersey like Magic wore was special.

It happened with 8:41 remaining left in the game, LeBron found Anthony Davis for a 3-pointer on the right wing.

LeBron finished the night with 11 assists and 28 points, which along with a monster 44-point night from Anthony Davis led the Lakers to an impressive win over the Bucks in Milwaukee.




Jimmy Butler returns, hits clutch shots to lift Heat past Celtics

Miami Heat v Boston Celtics
Nick Grace/Getty Images

BOSTON (AP) — Bam Adebayo scored 28 points, Tyler Herro had 26 and the Miami Heat completed a split of two games in Boston, beating the Celtics 120-116 on Friday night after Jaylen Brown banked in a long 3-pointer to force overtime.

Heat leading scorer Jimmy Butler returned to the lineup and had 25 points in 36 minutes after missing the previous seven games with a sore right knee. He added 15 rebounds.

“Obviously having JB back is big time for us,” Herro said. “He helps us in so many different ways.”

Kyle Lowry chipped in with 20 points before fouling out in OT for the Heat, who sent Boston to just its second loss in 16 games.

“My team welcomed me back and let me do what I do,” Butler said. “It was a big `W’ for the team.”

Brown sent the game to overtime by banking in his long 3 with 1.7 seconds to play in regulation. He finished with 37 points.

“It felt good coming off my hand,” Brown said. “I know we wanted to get a shot up off the rim as fast as possible, just in case we missed we could get a rebound, a tip out.”

The Celtics had won 10 straight at TD Garden.

Boston star Jayson Tatum scored just 14 points on a cold shooting night, going 5 of 18 from the floor, including 0 of 7 on 3-point attempts. He had 49 points in the Celtics’ 134-121 victory on Wednesday night.

“That’s the biggest thing about the league; you’re not going to stop anybody from just scoring,” Adebayo said. “I feel like (we’re) making him take tough shots every time we play him and living with the result.”

Butler hit a clutch jumper over Al Horford, making it 110-107 with 5.1 seconds left in regulation before Brown took a pass near midcourt, dribbled to his right and nailed his shot.

In OT, the teams were tied twice before Butler nailed a foul-line jumper over Horford with 1:45 left, but Brown hit two free throws to tie it.

Adebayo nailed two free throws and, after Tatum misfired on a 3, Butler hit a jumper to seal it.

“Jimmy made two tough, tough baskets,” Brown said. “That’s just a credit to his work and his skill and his development. He gets going in games like this; on the road in a hostile environment. … Tonight, two shots that in our defensive scheme we could live with, but Jimmy a big-time player made both of them.”

Unlike Wednesday, when shots were open more and both teams were making them effectively (each shot over 50%), defense was tighter and it resembled more of the postseason matchup last season between the pair that went seven games before Boston captured the Eastern Conference title.

Anthony Davis scores 44, outduels Antetokounmpo (40) leading Lakers past Bucks


MILWAUKEE (AP) — Anthony Davis and LeBron James tore apart the NBA’s top-rated defense and gave Los Angeles Lakers coach Darvin Ham a triumphant return to Milwaukee.

Davis scored a season-high 44 points and James passed Magic Johnson on the NBA’s career assists list Friday night in the Lakers’ thrilling 133-129 victory over the Bucks.

It marked Ham’s first game in Milwaukee since taking over as Lakers coach after working as an assistant on Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer’s staff from 2018-22.

Ham and Budenholzer shared a big hug before the game.

“It was a beautiful night,” said Ham, who also played for the Bucks from 1999-2002.

It also was quite a night for Davis, a Green Bay Packers fan who delivered his big performance with Aaron Rodgers in the stands. Davis spoke with the Packers’ four-time MVP quarterback before and after the game.

“I saw him before the game and he said, `I need 30 tonight,”‘ Davis said. “I just saw him and he said, `I only said 30, not 40.’ It’s always good for him to come out and watch the Lakers play.”

James made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:22 left and finished with 28 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. He upped his career assist total to 10,144 and moved into sixth place, ahead of Johnson’s 10,133.

“It means a lot, obviously,” James said. “The way Magic approached the game, it was very infectious. His teammates loved playing with him because of the joy he played with and the ability to pass the ball and get other guys involved. He was always excited about seeing his teammates be great. I always admired that in him. What’s even more humbling and super duper cool is the fact that I’m doing it in a Laker uniform and knowing how much Magic means to the Laker franchise.”

The Lakers had the highest point total and field-goal percentage (.536) the Bucks had allowed all season. Milwaukee entered Friday with the NBA’s top defensive rating.

“It was too easy, too easy, too easy,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “They were living in the paint. That’s not who we are.”

Los Angeles withstood a 40-point performance from Antetokounmpo, who also had seven rebounds and five assists.

The Lakers also spoiled the 2022-23 debut of Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, who had 17 points and seven assists in his return from offseason wrist surgery.

Milwaukee missed two potential tying 3-pointers in the final 20 seconds.

After Davis missed a fadeaway jumper, the Bucks called a timeout with 21.4 seconds left and then found an open Grayson Allen, whose 3-point attempt went off the side of the rim.

The Lakers’ Russell Westbrook missed two free throws with 13.3 seconds remaining, but Jrue Holiday couldn’t connect on a 3-pointer with just over five seconds left. Davis made a clinching free throw with 4.5 seconds left.

“Grayson got a good look,” Budenholzer said. “Good execution. Good screening. We’ll live with that shot all the time. And Jrue, similar. We got the kick ahead, playing against a defense that’s not set. Jrue, kind of a good rhythm shot for him. It was contested, but Jrue was 6 of 12 tonight (from 3-point range). He was feeling it.”

Holiday had 28 points for the Bucks, and Bobby Portis added 15 points and 10 rebounds. Westbrook had 15 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds for the Lakers.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.