Red Claws On A Roll

Friday, December 18, 2009

No, it isn’t some new delicacy. I’m talking about the Maine Red Claws, who – like your Celtics – are on a seven game winning streak despite some sloppy play and now have the best record in the league. This is helped, of course, by having the most players with NBA experience in the D-League, including Bill Walker and Lester Hudson as well as Alexis Ajinca of the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Red Claws were already a good team before Hudson joined them and they embarked on their two-day road trip to Erie, Pennsylvania to face the 2-3 Erie BayHawks. Despite being associated with the powerhouse Cleveland Cavaliers, the BayHawks seem thoroughly mediocre. Although the Cavs have five players eligible for assignment, none have been sent down yet, and it looks like Erie could use the help.

The Wednesday game was a classic example of a good team winning despite a less-than-stellar performance. This formula should be familiar by now to Celtics fans. With the Red Claws, as with the Celts, this shouldn’t inspire panic but confidence. Truly good teams – especially in basketball – win even on off nights. This is, in many ways, what separates mediocre playoff teams from real contenders, and it was evident in the Claws’ 81-77 win over Erie.

Recently-assigned Celtic Lester Hudson led the way, getting 25 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists in 38 minutes. Walker did well too, notching 16 points in about 27 minutes. Alexis Ajinca’s main contribution was in rebounds – eight – but he also played less in this game than recently. Hudson’s second-half sparks pushed the team to a win despite trailing in the first three quarters. While not as large a comeback as this past Sunday at home, it was impressive nonetheless.

The next night the Claws shook off the cobwebs and rolled to a 96-77 win over Erie. While Hudson (17 points, 9 rebounds) and Ajinca (14 points, 7 rebounds) were impressive, it was Trey Gilder – who was briefly with the Memphis Grizzlies – leading the team with 23 points and 10 rebounds.

Both wins showed off the Red Claws depth. No Maine player had more than 40 minutes in either game, unlike the BayHawks, and the NBA assignees didn’t automatically lead the team in points or minutes. Unlike some D-League teams, it’s clear the Claws won’t be depending on their NBA assignees to win games. While Hudson and Walker were certainly helpful Wednesday night, Walker scored vastly less in the second game and they still rolled to a win. On Wednesday, Ajinca scored less, then stepped it up the following night. With this team, it seems like on any given night almost anyone could be the Player of the Game.

Jon Jennings has – from scratch – assembled what is now the best team in the D-League. They have the most NBA talent, the best record, and one of the most experienced coaching staffs around. He’s not only brought pro basketball to the Pine Tree State, he’s brought a very watchable on-the-court product that will serve both Maine basketball fans and the Boston Celtics well.

Wednesday Player of the Game: Lester Hudson; honorable mention to Bill Walker.

Thursday Player of the Game: Trey Gilder and his double-double; honorable mention to Alexis Ajinka.


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