Faced with a “win-and-you’re-in” game in Capital City against the Go-Go, the Long Island Nets had the opportunity to clinch their second-ever postseason appearance in franchise history. After two promising home victories earlier in the week snapped a streak of six straight losses, momentum was on the Nets’ side. The coaches and players were all aware of the stakes and were ready to perform.
But ultimately, the Nets were unable to execute and take advantage of a multitude of opportunities. They lost their final game, 86-77, never once leading and have now surrendered all control in the future of their season.
The game was lost in multiple places but mostly at the free throw line. The Nets shot 8-of-20, their worst showing of the year from the charity stripe. That became a theme.
This game was lost behind the 3-point line. Long Island connected on seven of 37 long-range attempts, a putrid 19 percent, hurt by the absence of the G League’s Craig Randall II, the league’s most prodigious deep shooter who’s missed his fifth game because of personal issues. The only sweetener for that fact was that Capital City was equally atrocious from deep, making only 3 of 24 shots.
Some brutal individual performances and continuous failed offensive execution hurt Adam Caporn’s charges. Jordan Crawford, who has been relied on as a “bucket-getting” offensive creator recently in Randall’s absence, scored only five points on 1-of-11 shooting and missed all seven of his 3-point attempts. He also missed two free throws and registered four turnovers. David Duke Jr. scored only eight points on 2-of-12 shooting, adding five fouls and three turnovers of his own. RaiQuan Gray had five points on 2-of-9 shooting, as well as a few unforced mistakes on each end.
Long Island’s season is still not over, at least not until Saturday night’s G League games, the final night of regular season play for the NBA’s affiliate league. Simply put, the Nets enter the final night of games in the East’s eighth seed with a 18-15 record. The Grand Rapids Gold and Westchester Knicks, both seeded higher with identical records of 17-14. For Long Island to clinch the sixth seed, the final playoff spot, the Gold and Knicks must both lose.
Grand Rapids will be on a back-to-back against the College Park Skyhawks, who defeated them on Friday night for their tenth-straight victory. However, College Park no longer has much to play for. They’ve clinched the East’s fifth seed, and cannot go higher or lower. The Knicks face the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, a non-playoff opponent but still a respectable one. Both games start at 7:00 p.m. ET Saturday.
Making the postseason, even under these circumstances, would mean so much to this group. The words “playoffs” have echoed throughout Nassau Coliseum the past month, those two syllables constantly on the lips of every player, coach, and staffer. It meant something to this group. Now, they’re resigned to scoreboard-watching.
And even with the disappointing finish, Long Island has a lot to be proud of this year. They discovered and developed local tryout star Randall, who is third in the league in points per game and was the first player in franchise history to earn Player of The Month honors. Tyrone Wallace and Thon Maker were fun mid-season signings. The two, unlike Randall former NBA players injected an energy into the group that saw them drop only one game in the month of February. (Wallace was so key, in fact, that his two 10-day contracts at the end of the year may have been what sunk the season.)
Rookies Day’Ron Sharpe and David Duke Jr. got to show off their promising skills. Sharpe especially was a monster on the glass and down low, also occasionally stretching things out for three. Duke was an energetic slasher and defender in the backcourt who complimented Randall well.
A close first six minutes of the first quarter opened the night against Capital City, a where the teams went back and forth, the Go-Go holding no more than a two-point lead. Capital City eventually did extend their advantage to eight points, but the Nets were able to cut their deficit to two points by the end of the quarter, in no small part thanks to Maker’s interior presence on both ends of the floor, blocking shots and grabbing offensive rebounds.
In the second, Capital City once again stretched their lead to eight points, as both the Nets and Go-Go hit their first threes of the night. The Nets were able to fight back and tie the game at 37-37, but surrendered the last five points of the half to Capital City. Much of the low scoring can be attributed to both squads struggling from behind the arc. Long Island was shooting 1-of-15 from deep at halftime (seven percent), while the Go-Go were 1-of-10.
More close action saw Long Island cut Capital City’s lead to one point with a few minutes left in the third, but they were unable to get over the hump from there. The Go-Go responded emphatically with a 12-0 run spanning into the fourth quarter.
Now down double-digits, the Nets attempted a final push. But more missed free throws and failed offensive execution had Long Island down 16 points with a little over six minutes left. Caporn, Long Island’s rookie head coach, rallied the troops for a timeout with their season on the line.
Coming out of the timeout, Long Island unleashed a full-court press. Forcing turnovers and nailing threes, the Nets showed their first real signs of life all evening, good for a 10-0 run. They were undeterred by more missed free throws along the way, but then settled for long threes, stalling the offense and killing their momentum.
Capital City ended their four-minute scoring drought with one minute left hitting a one-point free throw to give them a six-point lead, but the Nets turned the ball over on the ensuing possession. Going for a steal, Long Island gave up easy baskets, and that was the ball game.
Here’s some highlights...
Tyrone Wallace notched a team-high 21 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. But with 8-of-21 shooting, including 1-of-10 from behind the three-point arc, and six turnovers, it was one of his poorer performances of the year.
In their biggest and most important, Long Island fell flat in all phases of the game. Now, all the team can do is watch from home and hope for the best.