The Long Island Nets lost to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers 124-127 on Friday night. Despite fighting their way back from a 22-point deficit, a collective effort by the Vipers proved too much.
A ball game can go one of two ways when a team is down 20 points in the first quarter: a 40 point plus annihilation or a “scratch and claw” your way back possession by possession. Luckily, the Nets chose the latter.
Entering this matchup, the Vipers were known to shoot the most three pointers in the G league. With that said, its rational to believe the Nets defensive plan was to run them off the line. Instead, they allowed the Vipers to open up the game with two quick, uncontested threes and a 10-2 run. That early confidence translated into a fast paced three-point feast, resulting in a 42-22 first quarter for the Vipers.
In the second quarter, the Nets continued to struggle in finding consistent offensive rhythm, which could be attributed to the Vipers switching defense. Although the Vipers are not usually known for their outstanding defense, it created difficulties for the Nets: unable to efficiently exploit mismatches, missing layups, taking bad shots and shooting 1-8 beyond the arc. However, this is the game of basketball. There will always be nights where offensively, teams just don’t click. BUT. If a team is suffering offensively, they must find a way to get stops. That’s it. There is never an excuse for defense. And that’s where the Nets struggled.
Again, surprisingly, the second quarter displayed little adjustment on the defensive end for the Nets even though they knew the Vipers wanted to shoot threes. They allowed entirely way too many open three point shots and forced rarely any contested twos. When a player did decide to run a shooter off the line, it was often followed by an easy two point layup because of a lack of weak side rotation and on ball discipline. Additionally, the Vipers exploited the pick and roll situation extremely well, hitting the roller successfully quite often. Uncontested three point shots and layups for the big men. How much easier could it get? No wonder the Nets were down 18 at the half.
The Nets FINALLY made a move in the third quarter. Despite having ZERO fast break points with five minutes left in the third quarter, a potential “blowout” quickly changed into an interesting ball game after an 11-0 run by the Nets. Much of this was attributed to “Big Bank Hank,” Henry Ellenson, who finished the game with 33 points and 12 rebounds. Something good almost always happened when he touched the ball. A three-minute scoring drought for the Vipers allowed the Nets to cut the deficit to 11 points going into the fourth.
We had a ball game ladies and gentlemen. The Nets knew they had a chance to win and it showed in their energy and effort. Although they continued to lack execution in scouting defense in limiting the Vipers three point attempts, they hustled defensively and attacked the rim more in the fourth than they did all game. They had the Vipers back on their heels.
A corner three by Ellison tied the game with 3:40 left to go. The Nets had all of the momentum and even took the lead for the fist time the entire game!
Timely, critical, crucial turnovers allotted the Vipers extra possessions and extra free-throw attempts in the final minutes. And that was the ball game. Angel Rodriguez, 26 points and six steals, and Chris Clemmons, 25 points and six steals, were offensive nightmares for the Nets all game. Unguardable in the first three quarters, both players closed the game out with big-time offensive plays. Additionally, three other players finished in double figures for the Vipers, a solid effort from the entire team.
It was a valiant effort for the Nets fighting their way back from a 20-point plus deficit. They displayed grit, character, and toughness. It is unfortunate they’ve experienced multiple games in such close grips, but the potential is obvious. Once they are able to put together four quarters, this team can be special.