ONE MORE DANCE (and seven more laps): Vipers force deciding game with 127-116 victory

EDINBURG — RGV Vipers coach Joseph Blair has one more pregame routine to run, seven laps around the court at Island Federal Credit Union Arena on the campus of Stony Brook University.

That is due to the Vipers claiming a 127-116 victory over the Long Island Nets in Game 2 of the NBA G League Finals on Tuesday at Bert Ogden Arena. The win forces a deciding third game in the best-of-three series, and Blair will once again make those seven laps.

“I am having a great time,” Blair said following Tuesday’s victory. “And I’m not saying this because we won. I was doing my seven laps today, thinking what a great situation and wonderful opportunity we have. We are pleased to be here.”

The seven laps Blair references is an Old Testament story about Israelites walking around the walls of Jericho seven times before they collapsed.

“I was out there today and it was hot out there,” Blair said. “But I’ve also been out there in the cold and the rain. In Joshua 6:1-27, the Israelites marched around the walls and that’s what I do: make my laps, knock the walls down and claim this building for us. When we’re on the road, I walk around the court seven times and do the same thing.

“One thing I don’t want to do is to be stressed. I want to be light-hearted and loose before every game.”

Facing elimination, the Vipers trailed early in the second quarter 38-34 before Isaiah Hartenstein went on a 3-point rampage, nailing five of eight beyond the arc during the period and leading the Vipers to a 64-56 halftime lead. Hartenstein finished the night with 33 points and 13 rebounds.

Five different Vipers reached double digits with Dakarai Tucker scoring 23, Michael Frazier adding 19 and Gary Payton and Jordan Johnsons each scoring 18.

After the Vipers’ morning shoot-around, Blair talked about the recent impact Johnson has had off the bench.

“He has had five or six very good games recently,” the first-year Vipers coach said. “I don’t have and set in stone rotation. I go to the bench to see what I can get, to juice that orange for as much as I can get. Some don’t have juice, some are super juicy. Right now, he’s that.

“Jordan does a great job with our pace and getting ahead of the defense. This has been good for him. He deserves it.”

Gary Payton said some changes in the offensive strategy were critical.

“I think we will be comfortable going back there right now,” Payton said. “We got our rhythm back and we knew we were getting in their heads. We had a couple technical fouls on both sides and they were getting a little chippy, but we have guys who know how to keep their heads in a situation.”

Payton also praised his teammate, Johnson, for bringing energy and quickness to the team. Johnson also had nine assists in the game.

“JJ has been playing like an MVP,” Payton said. “If we win, he gets the MVP in my opinion. He pushes the floor, he makes hard decisions and he finishes at the basket. He may be under-height, but he also gets to the free-throw line. He’s been playing amazing.”

Theo Pinson led the Nets with 32 points and 11 rebounds.

Friday’s game will be televised on ESPNU.