Isaiah Whitehead's birthday celebration includes a win for Long Island Nets
Whitehead scores 26, including go-ahead points, in 99-95 win over Westchester Knicks
On Thursday morning, they sang "Happy Birthday" to Isaiah Whitehead. On Thursday evening, the now-23-year-old brought the gifts, pouring in 26 points and delivering two clutch baskets in the final minutes to lift the Long Island Nets to a 99-95 win over the Westchester Knicks at the Westchester County Center.
Afterward, for good measure, Whitehead handed off and signed his sneakers to some young fans on the way to the locker room.
"I turned the ball over way too much and I was kind of down on myself," said the Brooklyn Nets assignee. "I've just got to stick with it. Whatever it takes to get the W. I think that was a grind-it-out win. We made a lot of mistakes, but we countered it with our defense. As long as we play defense like that, we'll be in a position to win."
The Nets had scored just nine points in the fourth quarter and trailed 91-87 closing in on the three-minute mark when Shannon Scott, the 6-foot-1 point guard, came up with an offensive rebound and a putback. Kamari Murphy tied the game at 91 with two free throws, the 6-9 big man getting free on a pick-and-roll with Milton Doyle.
Then Whitehead got to the rim and drew a foul, making two free throws to put Long Island in the lead. He followed with another drive, got his own rebound after the shot was blocked and scored for a 95-91 lead, capping an 8-0 Long Island run.
"We just needed to be aggressive," said Long Island coach Ronald Nored of the success the Nets had getting to the paint in the final minutes. "I thought we spent so much of the game offensively just dribbling the ball. Over-dribbling, so they were able to load up. The thing I tell Isaiah all the time is just be a threat on the catch all the time. And he was a threat there late. He was able to get to the free throw line."
After Sekou Wiggs scored for Westchester, Scott made four straight free throws in the final minute to seal the game. The Nets finished 28-for-31 from the foul line, a success rate that helped salvage their offense over the final three quarters.
After piling up 41 first-quarter points while making 7-of-11 3-pointers, the Nets shot 2-for-19 from behind the arc the rest of the game, including 0-for-8 in the second half.
"I felt pretty good about the threes that we were getting," said Nored. "Wide-open corner threes. Wing threes. They just didn't fall tonight. I told the guys at halftime, we can't let our shot-making - or not - determine how we play and determine the results of the game. We've just got to sit down and guard."
The defense ultimately pulled the game out. The Nets held the Knicks to just 14 points in the fourth quarter. Murphy came up with a string of big defensive plays late, including two blocks in the final minute, other shots altered, and five rebounds in the fourth quarter.
"Huge," said Nored. "Couple huge plays. Rebounds. The tip-out here on the sideline. He was the guy tonight that we've talked about all year. Just steady. Does his job. In the right places. And it worked out."
Murphy finished with a double-double, with 12 points and 12 rebounds, as did Doyle, who had 21 points and 10 rebounds.
The Nets came out in a rush, jumping out to a 21-7 lead five minutes in as James Webb III knocked down three 3-pointers in the first 2:30. But the Knicks put up 31 points of their own in the quarter to close within 10 and take the edge off Long Island's fast start.
"I thought from the beginning, we really came out and played with good pace and good energy," said Nored. "And we made shots. Webb starting out I think 3 for 3 from the 3-point line, we made shots and the game became easy for us. Which was good. And then we kind of took a punch. We didn't fall to the punch, but we could have taken it a little better than we did."