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Three things to Know: Celtics win, but are Warriors flipping the switch?

Michael Holley, Vinnie Goodwill and Natalie debate what makes a player the face of the NBA and who best fits the mold right now.

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 win, but are Warriors flipping the switch?

The Boston Celtics won the nationally televised Finals rematch Thursday night by doing what they have done all season long: Play strong defense, move the ball on offense and trust their stars to make big plays — like Jaylen Brown for 3 to tie the game and force OT.

Much like this game, it hasn’t always been pretty but the Celtics have been the best team in the NBA this season. We know they are capable of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come June. It’s not a surprise they pulled away in overtime for the 121-118 win.

On the other hand, we’ve been waiting for the Warriors to start caring about the regular season, play with a sense of urgency, and start showing up and looking like the defending champs.

Have the Warriors finally flipped the switch? Can you say that after a loss where the Warriors had chance at the end but couldn’t make the plays they needed on either end?

“All in all, I loved the level of competition, the way the guys played together,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said postgame, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “We looked like what we are, which is a championship team. But we didn’t close the game. Better now than in the playoffs.”

It was a Finals rematch on paper but also a sloppy game overall — Jayson Tatum had a few ugly turnovers down the stretch. There are concerns for sure with Golden State: The Warriors got pushed around in the paint, outscored there 52-30, and the Celtics dominated the glass all night. Also, the Warriors defensive rotations remain a step slow.

However, this was a gritty Warriors team we had seen too little of this season. They had a solid defensive effort against MVP candidate Tatum (34 points, but on 9-of-27 shooting). Kerr also treated it like a playoff game, with an eight-man rotation that leaned hard into his new, smaller starting five (statistically the starting five with Looney has one of the best five-man units in the NBA this season, but Looney was on the bench to start and Jordan Poole got the nod as the Warriors tried going small).

You can argue this was an anomaly for the Warriors — they are still a game below .500 (with a brutal back-to-back tonight in Cleveland). They lost to an unimpressive Bulls team on Sunday and just a week ago had a three-game losing streak against the Pistons, Magic, and struggling Suns. All season long they have looked like a bored championship team waiting for the games to matter. They sit ninth in the West because of it.

But all season long we’ve been waiting for the run. Waiting for the string of games where they flip the switch, win 12-of-14 and vault up the standings, looking like the Warriors we know. There have been more flashes of that team lately, even if it’s more flickers of it followed by inconsistency.

Thursday night, in a loss in Boston, we saw the Warriors team that can defend their title. Maybe this is the game that gets them to show up nightly with a sense of urgency.

It needs to be, they are running out of time.

2) Ben Simmons gets ejected and struggling Nets fall to struggling Suns

Ben Simmons was frustrated. He had been racking up fouls and jawing at the officials much of the night, then when he picked up his fifth foul with 8:47 to go in the third quarter for a moving screen — he did throw his backside out, but much worse goes uncalled around the league on screens — Simmons crossed the line with some magic language and got ejected.

By that point the Nets were down 16 and this game had gotten out of hand as the Nets again struggled to generate consistent offense without Kevin Durant (they are now 0-4 since he went out with a knee injury). Brooklyn had a 109.8 offensive rating in this game (via Cleaning the Glass), which is Rockets/worst in the league level. Going back to Cleveland, teams where Kyrie Irving has been the No.1 option have struggled (but if he’s the second option next to LeBron/KD, they thrive).

Mikal Bridges was hot from the outside and scored 28, Deandre Ayton got whatever he wanted inside on his way to 24. Kyrie Irving scored 30 and the Nets had a late comeback to make it a game they almost stole, but the Suns held on. It’s the kind of win Phoenix needs as it tries to keep its head above water until Devin Booker returns.

3) Zach LaVine scores 30, Bulls top Pistons in Paris

Maybe the best player in the building sat courtside and watched on Thursday in Paris — Victor Wembanyama made it to the game despite the transportation strike in France.

Also on hand was French former NBA star Joakim Noah — dressed for the occasion.

Oh, there was a basketball game too, with the NBA promoting its product on the European continent. Zach LaVine - he of the French surname (he said postgame his great-grandfather was French) — dropped 30, DeMar DeRozan added 26 points and the Bulls never trailed in a 126-108 win over the Pistons.

For a Bulls team fighting for play-in positioning in the East, they could use any win on any continent.