The Long Island Nets arrived at the Westchester County Center last Tuesday evening as one of the two teams still unbeaten in the NBA G League this season. They departed a few hours later no longer in possession of a winning streak.
An Isaiah Hicks go-ahead basket with 21 seconds remaining gave the Westchester Knicks the lead for good and Luke Kornet soon sealed the outcome with a pair of free throws in a 93-90 victory that snapped the Nets’ season-opening four-game win streak. John Jenkins scored a game-high 25 points and Hicks added 24 as the Knicks improved to 6-3.
“Sometimes when it’s not pretty, you’ve gotta find ways,” said Knicks head coach Mike Miller after his team had overcome a 12-point, third-quarter deficit. “Maybe it’s a loose ball, maybe it’s a rebound, maybe it’s grinding it out to get fouled and get a free throw. Whatever you have to do, you do what the game calls for.”
The Knicks built a 50-43 halftime advantage, but the third quarter wound up being nearly as disastrous as the one they played just 48 hours earlier when the Erie BayHawks outscored them by a whopping 47-22 margin en route to snapping their modest three-game winning streak. A 3-pointer by Theo Pinson, followed soon by baskets from Alan Williams and Dzanan Musa enabled Long Island to tie the game just over a minute into the period.
Consecutive layups from Williams, the league’s leading rebounder and a veteran of 62 NBA games with the Phoenix Suns, started a 24-10 blitz by the Nets and left Westchester facing a 74-62 deficit with four and a half minutes remaining in the third quarter. Long Island made 13 of its 21 shots from the field in the period and held an eight-point cushion when it was over.
“Well, it wasn’t so much making the shots,” said Miller about Long Island’s third-quarter explosion. “We weren’t getting back. That’s the whole thing. They’re the number one paint team in the league. We gave up too much in the paint during that time. And then we kind of drop our heads down. We tried to shuffle in some new bodies and change the tempo and do something different. That was the little run we had to weather. As it turned out, we just had to get through that point and start chipping back into it.”
Long Island missed its first half dozen shots in the fourth quarter and the Knicks closed to within 82-80 on a pair of free throws by Kadeem Allen, who finished with 19 points and five assists. A 3-pointer by Jenkins, the sweet-shooting guard from Vanderbilt who has already scored over 30 points four times this season, cut the Nets’ lead to 86-85 with four and a half minutes to go.
A bucket by the Nets’ Williams gave Long Island a 90-87 edge with 1:58 to play, but Jenkins answered just over a minute later by slicing through two defenders for a scoop in the lane that brought the Knicks back within a point again. Long Island guard Shannon Scott then misfired on a 3-point shot with 35 seconds remaining, setting the stage for some timely heroics from Jenkins and Hicks.
Using a high pick and roll, the two combined to give Westchester its first lead since early in the third quarter. Jenkins delivered a bounce pass to the cutting Hicks, who slipped past Williams for the game-deciding layup. The Nets had two chances to regain the lead, but Pinson missed on a 3-pointer and Mitchell Creek couldn’t convert on a drive to the basket with 2.5 seconds on the clock. The two free throws with 1.5 seconds remaining by Kornet, a 7-foot-1 center on assignment from the New York Knicks, provided the final points for Westchester.
“We’re still building slowly as we go and I think all these little steps make a difference,” said Miller, whose team was able to leapfrog Long Island in the standings by week’s end with a pair of home wins over the Wisconsin Herd. “If we keep building the habits and doing the things we need to do, we’ll put ourselves in a good position.”
Despite the impressive 8-3 record at the moment, and sitting atop the Eastern Conference, Miller expects even more from his players in the weeks ahead.
“I think we’re far from a finished product,” he said. “We’re still evolving. We still have a lot of work to do, but I think we have a much higher ceiling that we can get to in time.”