The RGV Vipers team that handily won their two playoff games leading to the NBA G League Championship looked nothing like the team that played Game 1 of the best-of-3 series Sunday at the Stony Brook Campus against the Long Island Nets.
The Nets jumped out to an 8-0 lead, led by as many as 20 in the first quarter and ran away with a 117-107 win over the Western Conference champion Vipers to grab a 1-0 series lead. Game 2 will be played at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg with the Vipers facing elimination. If Game 3 is necessary, it would be played at 7 p.m. Friday back in Long Island.
Poor shooting and turnovers early helped the Eastern Conference champions lead by as many as 22 after the first basket of the second quarter, 40-18. The Vipers ended up with just 13 turnovers, however, while Long Island had 19.
However, as is always the case with the potent offense of the Vipers, they can score fast and often. They closed the gap to within 10 at the half, 59-49. The Vipers then went on a 11-4 run to close within three, 63-60. Michael Frazier started the run with a 3-pointer from the corner, then Gary Payton II followed with an authoritative dunk and a pair of 3-pointers as the Vipers reeled in the league’s top-scoring regular season team.
Long Island, who beat RGV 110-100 during the G League Showcase in Las Vegas earlier in the year, went on its own run, 14-2 to push the advantage to 77-62.
The Vipers made some small runs after that but couldn’t get their deficit back down to single digits and were down 108-82 before Diamond Stone connected on three straight 3-points and a pair of free throws to end the game.
The Vipers shot 37 for 112 from the floor (33 percent) and 11 for 47 from 3-point land (23 percent). Three-point specialists Frazier and Dakarai Tucker combined to go 1 for 10 from beyond the arc while 7-foot center Isaiah Hartenstein launched 10 3-pointers and connected on three.
Both teams finished with 58 rebounds and the Vipers had 23 offensive rebounds but struggled to score off many of them.
Jordan Johnson was the offensive spark for the Vipers, scoring 23 points on 8 of 16 shooting from the floor while also dishing out three assists and grabbing seven rebounds. Hartenstein added 21 points and 17 rebounds while Payton and Stone ended with 17 points apiece.
Dzanan Musa and Thomas Wimbush each scored 23 for Long Island while big man Alan Williams had 19 points and 16 rebounds. Jordan McLaughlin added 21 for Long Island.
The Vipers are looking for a league best third G League Championship and are playing in their fifth championship series this decade.