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Three things to know: Three words from Popovich sent Becky Hammon into NBA history

With Trae Young taking another step forward and their defense making stops, it sure looks like the Atlanta Hawks are a legit playoff contender.

The NBA season has returned, and so has the NBC Sports daily NBA roundup Three Things to Know — everything you might have missed, every key moment from the night before in the Association in one place. However, we will be taking a couple of days off to celebrate the New Year and will return next week.

1) After years of preparation, three words sent Becky Hammon into NBA history

“You got ‘em.”

Legendary Spurs (and current USA Basketball) coach Gregg Popovich gets ejected once or twice a season, on average. Wednesday night against the Lakers was one of those days; a no-call on a driving DeMar DeRozan layup attempt with 3:56 left in the second quarter sent him over the edge. He stormed out on the court to complain about it. Pretty quickly, he was walking back to the locker room with security by his side.

As Popovich was walking off the court, he made the decision that was historic for the NBA (quote via Dave McMenamin of ESPN).

“He officially pointed at me. That was it…" Hammon said. “Said, ‘You got ‘em,’ and that was it. Very Pop-like.”

With that, Hammon because the first active female head coach in NBA history.

The record books will record the Spurs loss to the Lakers on Gregg Popovich’s record — he was the head coach when the game started, and San Antonio was down 11 when he was ejected — but for a little more than half a game Hammon was a head coach in the NBA.

She has been preparing for this role for years. The six-time WNBA All-Star and four-time All-WNBA player has spent six seasons on the Spurs coaching staff, both teaching players and soaking up knowledge herself on how to do the job. Part of that was as head coach of the Spurs’ Summer League team in 2015 — a roster that included Kyle Anderson — which she led to the Summer League title.

“Obviously, she’s been paying her dues over the last few years and Coach Pop has given her the opportunity...” LeBron James said after the game. “It’s a beautiful thing just to hear her barking out calls, barking out sets. She’s very passionate about the game. Congrats to her and congrats for our league.”

Hammon was a groundbreaker when she was put on the Spurs staff. In her footsteps there are now eight women assistant coaches around the NBA (which is actually down three from a year ago). Hammon has talked many times about understanding the importance and responsibility of her role but wanting to focus on the job and not be overwhelmed by what it may mean. She said she felt the same way on Wednesday, she knew it was big but wanted to focus on the game.

“It’s a big deal. It’s a substantial moment…

“In the moment, I was just trying to win the game. I say this a lot, but I try not to think about the huge picture or the huge aspect of it because it can get overwhelming. It’s my job to be focused and to help those guys do the things that will help us win.”

There will be a female head coach in the NBA someday — maybe Hammon (she has interviewed for head coaching jobs), maybe someone else, but it will happen. When it does, this day will be one of the big stepping stones on the way to that milestone.

And it will all have started with three words from Popovich.

2) Defense? Who needs defense? Nets, Hawks play the most entertaining game of the season

Brooklyn entered Wednesday’s game against Atlanta — the first of two in this series, the teams meet again Friday — with the best defense in the NBA statistically. That felt inflated and a reflection of small sample size, not reality.

Trae Young and the Hawks burst that bubble Wednesday, scoring 141 points with a ridiculous 129.4 offensive rating.

But even that wasn’t enough to get a win when Kevin Durant puts up 33, Kyrie Irving adds 25 in a game where he was a fourth quarter force, and Brooklyn scored 145.

This was simply the most entertaining game of the NBA season so far — it was intense and fast-paced. Steve Nash’s reaction postgame was, “I need a beer.”

Atlanta had come in undefeated but with questions about how good they really were. It turns out the Hawks are for real, that just wasn’t enough on Wednesday.

Both offenses were operating at a high level — the shot making was impressive, the shooting by both teams was out of 2K21. Young had his 30 on 18 shots (but was 0-of-4 from three), John Collins had 30 as well on 20 shots for the Hawks (although the Nets hunted him on defense), and Bogdan Bogdanovic had 22 off the bench.

Joe Harris pitched in 23 for Brooklyn — 6-of-8 from three — but the difference was four Nets bench players were in double figures scoring: Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Taurean Prince, and Landry Shamet.
This is going to be must-watch basketball on Friday.

3) Masked Kawhi Leonard returned, drops 28 in Clippers win

After missing a couple of games with a mouth laceration following a Serge Ibaka elbow, Kawhi Leonard was wearing a mask and was back on the court Wednesday… and NBA Twitter was all about the mask.

It didn’t seem to bother Leonard much as he got to his spots on the floor and scored 28 on 9-of-17 shooting. Combine that with 23 points from Paul George and some solid Clippers defense and they picked up a win against the Trail Blazers, 128-105.

After the game, it was Leonard with all the jokes — including about putting Ibaka on the trade block.

CJ McCollum had 25 for Portland but the Clippers did a good job containing Damian Lillard, who scored 20 but on 3-of-14 shooting. Lou Williams had 15 in a balanced Clippers attack, as Los Angeles improves to 4-1 on the young season.