The Long Island Nets are one win away from capturing their first ever G League Championship. The Nets affiliate traveled to Edinburg, Texas, where they will face the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, the Western Conference champs, Tuesday night in Game 2 of the league finals. In Game 1 Sunday, the Nets beat the Vipers handily in the best-of-3 series.
A win in Texas and it’s over. A loss and it’s back to Island Federal Arena in Stony Brook for Game 3 Friday. But the Nets hope it won’t come to that.
The Nets did a good job controlling Game 1 against the Vipers, especially early when they dominated the Western Conference champs. The Vipers answered in the second quarter, ending the first half with a 10 point deficit but the Nets pulled away in the second half and led by 29 points, their biggest lead of the game, with 5:48 left in the game. Rio Grande made it look close at the end, but in the end, Long Island won by 10 points.
It was the Nets 13th win in their last 14 games.
Where to Follow the Game
The game will be broadcast only on ESPNU at 8 p.m. ET.
Game 2 is now a win-or-go-home for Rio Grande Valley. The game will be played at the Bert Oden Arena with a capacity for 9,000 fans. What can we expect to see in Game 2? The Nets hoisting their first NBA G League Championship or the Vipers forcing a Game 3? Here’s what you need to know.
Players to Watch
Long Island had five players in double-figures in the Game 1 win. Thomas Wimbush, who’s been filling in for Mitch Creek, continued his impressive playoff play scoring 23 points, the same as Dzanan Musa who’s impressed with his all-around game of late, essentially playing the point forward position at 6’9”, a tough guard for the Vipers. Jordan McLaughlin came off the bench again and recorded a near double-double of 21 points and eight rebounds.
The Nets two-way players had quiet first half’s offensively but turned it on when the Nets needed it in the second to close out the game. Theo Pinson had nine first half points and provided good defense on Gary Payton II, who had a slow first half. Alan Williams had only six first half points but was strong on the boards gathering nine boards. Defense was key for Big Sauce, runner-up for the G League MVP award. Despite a slow offensive first half for the Nets two-way center, he did a good job locking down Vipers center Isaiah Hartenstein.
We can expect the Nets two-way players to have not just bigger impacts in the first half but stronger games overall if the Nets to fly out of Texas as G League champs. Tahjere McCall, who only had five points in the Game 1 win, has been the X-Factor for Long Island the whole season. The 6’5” wingman is critical to the Nets game plan.
For the Vipers, they need Payton II to provide that instant offense and lock down defense. Payton II, who had 10 steals in the Western Conference Finals against the Santa Cruz Warriors, did do a good job defending and holding Pinson to limited offensive opportunities but McLaughlin’s boost off the bench played a huge role.
In order for the Vipers to force a Game 3, Hartenstein will have to produce similar numbers, as he did in the Game 1 loss, and defend the paint at a high level, which he didn’t do in Game 1. Long Island began to pull away in that one with their driving and cutting offensive play. The Vipers will also need their bench to provide consistent scoring. Rio Grande Valley’s bench did not defend well Sunday, permitting Long Island to roll with the starters out. McLaughlin, in particular, was given too much space and made them pay; not just from the arc but off drives. Jordan Johnson, who had a good Game 1, scoring 23 points , seven rebounds, and three assists will need to be the Vipers X-Factor in Game 2.
The win would be doubly big for Long Island’s two Texans, Will Weaver, their head coach, and Matt Riccardi, their assistant GM. Both are University of Texas grads. Weaver, of course, is the G League coach of the year and has already been named head coach of the Sydney Kings in Australia’s NBL.
Long Island Nets: Theo Pinson, Tahjere McCall, Dzanan Musa, Thomas Wimbush, Alan Williams
Rio Grande Valley Vipers: Gary Payton II, Michael Frazier, Isaiah Hartenstein, Dakari Tucker, and Vincent Edwards