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L.I. Nets inch closer to G League title

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The Long Island Nets have had their sights set on the NBA G League championship since the beginning of the season, and now they are just one victory away from reaching their goal.

The Nets ran out to a 22-point lead in the opening half, saw it cut to three in the third quarter, and then responded by blowing out the Rio Grande Valley Vipers 117-107 in Game 1 of the best-of-three championship series at Island Federal Credit Union Arena on the campus of Stony Brook University on Sunday night.

Dzanan Musa and Thomas Wimbush led a balanced attack by pouring in 23 points apiece for Long Island. Alan Williams was a beast in the paint, scoring 19 points and pulling down 16 boards. Isaiah Hartenstein led the Vipers with a 21-point, 17-rebound effort. Rio Grande Valley held a decisive 23-8 advantage in offensive rebounds.

“Getting the win in the opener is massive,” Nets coach Will Weaver said. “We came out and played real well at the start. Our execution was pretty much picture perfect, which is how you get that type of lead. We did a better job on the glass in the second half, and now we’re in a position where we can win a championship.”

A thunderous dunk and back-to-back threes by Gary Payton II cut Long Island’s lead to 63-60 midway through the third quarter, but the Nets responded with a 14-2 run that put the game away. Payton II finished with 17 points.

Guard Jordan McLaughlin (21 points, eight rebounds) was outstanding off the bench for the home team. Every time the Nets needed a big basket or a calming presence on the floor, it was McLaughlin to the rescue. He shot 9 of 16 from the field, including 3 of 8 from behind the three-point line.

“You can’t beat smarts,” Weaver said. “You’ll take smart over strong every day of the week. Jordan sees stuff so well and communicates so effectively. He’s so versatile that he can plug any hole. Our depth is the really strength of our team.”

The Nets will look out to the close out the series on Tuesday night at Bert Ogden Arena in Edinburg, Texas at 8 p.m. The Vipers are 18-7 on their home floor. Long Island did not make a trip to Rio Grande Valley this season.

“Take good shots, force them to take bad ones, and handle the logistics well,” Weaver said. “That has been the recipe for this team’s success. We’ve been preparing for this all year.”