The Long Island Nets won’t be going to the G-League playoffs. In a win-or-go-home game vs. the Grand Rapids Drive, the Piston affiliate outlasted the Nets affiliate, 101-99, in the Michigan city, despite 39 points from Isaiah Whitehead.
The loss not only ended the Nets quest for the post-season. It was the last game of the regular season. The Nets finished 27-23, one game behind the Drive, in the race for a wild card in the playoffs which begin Thursday.
Whitehead, who averaged 32 points over the last six games of the season, missed a three-pointer in the final seconds, as did Milton Doyle, to seal the game for the Drive who had opened an eight point lead late only to watch the Nets claw their way back to within one, then two with time running out.
A Whitehead layup had cut the lead to one and Speedy Smith went 1-of-2 after Long Island fouled to get the ball. The Nets wound up with the final possession but missed the two shots at the end.
The game and even its playoff implications may turn out to be secondary. Zeke Upshaw of the Drive collapsed late in the game.
Upshaw had gone into cardiac arrest, it was later reported, and rushed to Spectrum Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids. He was reported in critical condition.
Isaiah Whitehead was among the players offering his prayers post-game.
Upshaw is a Hofsta product. He’s 26.
The 6’3” Whitehead finished his G-League season with averages of 22.4 points, 3.8 assists and 3.7 rebounds over 30 games. He played an average of nearly 29 minutes a game as the Nets tried to get him playing time with a backcourt logjam in Brooklyn. The 23-year-old, the Nets third youngest player, spent time at all three backcourt positions in Uniondale, home of the Nassau Coliseum.
In Saturday’s game, he shot 12-of-24, including 4-of-11 from three and 11-of-12 from the line.
After the game, Whitehead, ever the pro, tweeted out his thanks to the Long Island Nets and their fans.
In addition to the Whitehead, Long Island’s two-way contracts, Milton Doyle and James Webb III, had big games. Webb. a 6’9” stretch 4, scored 20 points on 6-of-15 shooting —40 percent, all from deep. Doyle had 14 as did Shannon Scott, the Nets point guard.
Brooklyn will have to decide on whether to keep Whitehead come June 29. They have a $1.5 million team option for next season. Although the Nets will be looking to maximize cap space, Whitehead’s salary will amount to less than 1.5 percent of the salary cap and there’s no denying he’s honed his skills this season even if he hasn’t played big minutes with the parent club as he did last year in place of Jeremy Lin.
Doyle, who finished with a 20.5 per game scoring average, and Webb, who put up 14.2 points per game after being called up from Delaware, will both be restricted free agents this summer. Doyle is more likely of the two to be back. The Loyola Chicago alumni proved he can score at least at the G-League level. Both he and Webb need to add strength if they can follow the Nets development profile for G-Leaguers: G-Leaguers to two-way contracts to roster player to rotation player.
Expect to see all three on the Brooklyn Nets bench for the team’s remaining games.
For the organization, the season had to be deemed a success with the development of Whitehead and Doyle and a winning record. The Nets are also high on the coaching prowess of Ronald Nored, Long Island’s 28-year-old head coach. Nored played point guard for Brad Stephens, now the Celtics head coach, when he was at Butler and twice went to the NCAA Final game.
- Game Report: Grand Rapids Drive 101, Long Island Nets 99 (with Video) - G-League
- Full Game (Video) - G-League
- Drive beat Nets to earn first ever playoff berth - Michigan Live
- Grand Rapids Drive forward Zeke Upshaw collapses on the court - Peter J. Wallner - Michigan Live
- Drive’s Upshaw collapses on court, rushed to hospital - WOOD-TV