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On his birthday, Whitehead leads Long Island past Westchester

Long Island Nets

Isaiah Whitehead turned 23 Thursday and celebrated by scoring 26 points and hitting key baskets at the end as the Long Island Nets won their seventh game in the last ten, beating cross-county rival Westchester Knicks, 99-95, at the Westchester County Center.

The win, the second in three nights vs Westchester, keeps the Nets in the playoff picture. The team with the best regular-season record in each division automatically qualifies for the postseason as one of six “division winners.” The additional six playoff berths will be filled by the three “wild card” teams in each conference with the best regular-season records, other than the division winners. The Nets currently would qualify as a “wild card” and are three games ahead of the team with the fourth best record. Long Island has six games to play.

Whitehead finished 9-of-21, including 2-of-4 from deep. He added four assists, three rebounds and three steals. The Nets assignee is now averaging 20.2 points in the G-League and shooting 44.1 percent overall and 36.3 percent from deep.

“I turned the ball over way too much and I was kind of down on myself,” Whitehead said post-game, underestimating his contribution. “I’ve just got to stick with it. Whatever it takes to get the W. I think that was a grind-it-out win. We made a lot of mistakes, but we countered it with our defense. As long as we play defense like that, we’ll be in a position to win.”

With the game tied at 95, Whitehead got to the rim, drew a foul, and made two free throws giving Long Island the lead. He followed with another drive, got his own rebound after the shot was blocked and scored for a 95-91 lead, capping an 8-0 Long Island run. That spurt sealed the win.

Whitehead wasn’t the only Lincoln High School alum to play big in the big game. Kamari Murphy, the Nets 6’9” power forward, had another big game with 12 points and 12 rebounds.

Murphy came up with a string of big defensive plays late, including two blocks in the final minute and five rebounds in the fourth quarter.

”Huge,” said Long Island head coach Ronald Nored, who had his 28th birthday last week. “Couple huge plays. Rebounds. The tip-out here on the sideline. He was the guy tonight that we’ve talked about all year. Just steady. Does his job. In the right places. And it worked out.”

Milton Doyle matched his season’s average with 21 points on 7-of-18 shooting. He also grabbed 10 boards and handed out eight assists. James Webb III had 14, going 4-of-9, including 3-of-8 from deep.

The Nets started fast, going up 21-7 helped by Webb’s three early 3-pointers in the first 2:30. The Knicks, who hold the league’s best record but are missing three starters, recovered and the game was close right up until Whitehead’s heroics at the end.