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Three things to Know: Celtics execute better down stretch, beat Clippers

Michael Holley and Vincent Goodwill praise Shai Gilgeous-Alexander's performance this season, and debate if he's taken a leap to become one of the NBA's elite players.

Three Things To Know 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 that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Celtics execute better down stretch, knock off Clippers

The Clippers came into Thursday night 8-2 in games Kawhi Leonard had played in December. They have shown flashes of being a team that could come out of the West, but they had a lot of chemistry to build in a roster that is still figuring out how to play together.

The Celtics went through those growing pains last season and it showed — when it came to fourth quarter execution, Boston was simply better. Their established chemistry showed (even without sixth man Malcolm Brogdon). As Andrew Grief of the LA Times noted, the Clippers turned the ball over five times in the fourth and the Celtics were +5 in rebounds, +4 on the offensive glass and +4 in second-chance points in the quarter.

Then there was Derrick White making game-deciding blocks at the rim. (White is quietly one of the best rim-protecting guards in the league.)

The result was a 116-110 win for the Celtics. The big headline is that — unlike the first meeting of these teams a few weeks ago in Los Angeles — the Jays won the battle of the wings: Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown each had 29 points, compared to 26 for Kawhi Leonard and 24 for Paul George. (The bright spot in there for the Clippers is Leonard played a season-high 37 minutes, the restrictions seem to be off with him.)

The fourth-quarter controversy in this one came on this play, when George drove the lane and both Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown (who at least maybe tripped) went to the ground to sell the call. They got it from referee Scott Foster.

Let’s just say Paul George didn’t like the call and said so on social media (which likely will cost him $25K).

These teams will grow and evolve over the remaining 60% of the season. How much the Clippers can grow — and if they can stay healthy — will go a long way in determining if this was a preview of things to come or just another December game.

2) Hield hits quickest 3 in NBA history, Pacers go on to beat Cavaliers

Well, that didn’t take long.

The 3-ball is the great equalizer in today’s game and they were falling for the Pacers. Tyrese Haliburton looked like an All-Star — the question isn’t if he makes the team, it’s does he start? — with 29 points including going 6-of-8 from 3, while Hield kept hitting his 3-pointers and finished with 25 points including 5-of-6 from deep.

The Pacers went on to win the shootout 135-126, a game where the losing Cavaliers had a 131.5 offensive rating for the night (the Pacers were 140.8). The highlights of the night were this Aaron Nesmith dunk.

And coach Rick Carlisle getting ejected over Donovan Mitchell not drawing a travel call.

That’s three straight losses for the Cavaliers, while the Pacers have won 4-of-5. Both teams currently sit in the top six in the East, avoiding the play-in.

3) Eleven players suspended, Pistons’ Hayes gets three games for incident with Magic

It’s strange to say when 11 guys were just suspended, but the NBA came down soft on this one (which is right in line with the Adam Silver era).

The NBA announced the suspensions from the Pistons/Magic incident Wednesday night:

Killian Hayes: 3 games
Moritz Wagner: 2 games
Hamidou Diallo: 1 game

Plus the Magic’s Cole Anthony, R.J. Hampton, Gary Harris and Kevon Harris, Admiral Schofield, Franz Wagner, Mo Bamba and Wendell Carter Jr. all got one-game suspensions for leaving the bench during a fight (that is the standard punishment by the league). Those bench suspensions will be staggered over a few games so the Magic will dress enough players to play their games.

This came down out of the incident where Mo Wagner knocked Hayes into the bench and Hayes got up and punched Wagner in the back of the head, appearing to knock him out for a second.

A three-game suspension for a clear, landed punch is getting off light, especially compared to the two games for Wagner and Diallo’s one-game suspension for a reasonably harmless shove for another player. That said, these are suspensions without pay that will hit these players in the wallet.