RGV Vipers even up championship series with win over Long Island

EDINBURG — After the first game of the NBA G League Finals on the campus of Stony Brook on Long Island, Vipers center Isaiah Hartenstein may have felt a little disrespected. He would find himself wide open at the 3-point line.

“They sagged off Isaiah, thinking he couldn’t shoot the ball that well,” Vipers coach Joseph Blair said on Tuesday. “He felt a little disrespected the way they were guarding him at the 3-point line. “

Hartenstein, a 7-footer with a nice touch from 3-point land, did more than gain that respect back as he connected on 8 of 9 3-pointers and scored a game high 33 points to lead the Vipers to a 127-116 victory over the Long Island Nets on Tuesday at Bert Ogden Arena.

The win evens the best-of-three series at 1-1 and forces a deciding game back at Stony Brook at 7 p.m. Friday. The Vipers are looking to become the first team in the G League to win three championships. They lost twice previously to the Nets this year prior to Tuesday’s game, both times by 10 points. However, after the victory, in front of a deafening near-capacity crowd, there was no lack of confidence in the locker room heading to Friday’s winner-take-all game.

“We executed our game plan and shot the ball better tonight. We didn’t shoot it that well the first game,” said Michael Frazier, who scored 19 points. “We made some adjustments both on the offensive end and the defensive end and were more locked in tonight. It was a good win for us and we are excited for Game 3.”

Hartenstein didn’t take any 3-pointers in the first quarter but hit five in the second quarter and had 18 points at halftime. While he doesn’t make 3-pointers his priority, Hartenstein’s hot hand spread like wildfire throughout his team.

“He was huge for us tonight, but we know he can do that and we encourage him to take those shots,” Frazier said. “It’s no surprise that he had the game tonight that he did. We definitely fed off that.”

Both teams were 43 of 94 from the floor (45.7%) but the Vipers clearly made the difference from beyond the arc. They were an impressive 21 of 44 (47.7%) from the 3-point arc while the Nets were 13 of 34 (38.2%).

“We talked about what we needed to do tonight – shoot the ball well and limit their free throws,” Blair said. “They were averaging over 40 free throws a game against us during the two games we played them this season and we held them to 23 tonight.

“As far as shooting the ball better, whatever Isaiah had for lunch today, he better have the same thing on Friday.”

Game 3 of the NBA G League Finals can be seen on ESPNU.