Last night the Maine Red Claws continued the weekend trend and snapped a winning streak with a disappointing home loss. They followed the lead of the Celtics' home loss to Philly Friday night in the TD Garden, which ended an eleven-game winning streak for Boston. Saturday it was the Red Claws' turn, as their 113-105 loss ended a seven-game winning streak, dropping them to 7-2 and ending their brief possession of the best record in the D-League. Another sellout crowd in the Portland Expo watched the Claws come out in the first half and let the Fort Wayne Mad Ants walk all over them. The visitors seemed to sink every basket early on, working together in a way they clearly hadn't during their Friday night OT loss to Springfield. By halftime the Red Claws were trailing 62-55.
The third quarter was better, and by the start of the fourth the Red Claws had a narrow lead. The third quarter was the Claws' best in the game by far, and they really began to sync as a team. It was looking as though they might not only pull it out, but pull well ahead of the Mad Ants - just as in the second quarter of the Celtics-6ers game it looked like Boston might put Philly away. As in that game, it was not to be. Fort Wayne readjusted and came out strong in the fourth quarter, erasing Maine's gains.
One of the problems for the Red Claws was a lack of scoring balance. The Mad Ants had five players in double digits and two others close behind with 8-9 points. Led by F Ron Howard with 30 points, the Ants had a fairly balanced, very effective offense last night. When the Claws started to readjust and pull ahead, they did too, dampening several attempted rallies.
Maine, meanwhile, had four players in double digits, and two of those were far closer to 10 than 20. G Billy Thomas and F Darnell Lazare had 11 and 12 points, respectively. Lester Hudson's anemic performance didn't help any (7 points, 2 rebounds, 5 assists). Indeed, if this game was the only factor, Hudson would be staying in Maine and Walker would be headed back to Boston.
Bill Walker and Alexis Ajinca were both outstanding last night. Walker had 33 points, leading the team and keeping them in the game all night. Ajinca neared a double-double with 23 points and 9 rebounds, making good adjustments to read the plays. It was his best performance in Maine so far, and is indicative of steady improvement since the beginning of the season. Hopefully it's a trend that will continue for him, and hopefully they won't again have to carry the team on their back. Combined, they had half the points last night.
The team as a whole failed at the defensive end of the court last night. Much of the Claws' success can be attributed to defensive prowess, which is even more uncommon in the D-League than it is in the NBA. The Claws have won three games scoring less than 100, and two of those were less than 90. They're one of the best defensive teams in the D-League right now, but after last night they know that defense has to be there on every play in every quarter.
The Red Claws have had a few disappointing efforts even in their seven-game winning streak, but Fort Wayne's stellar shooting was too much for them to overcome. Clearly they were eager for the win and the Red Claws just weren't ready for another rally.
NOTES: Celtics GM Danny Ainge attended the game...Lester Hudson is expected to return to Boston for the 6PM tilt against the Minnesota Timberwolves...this was the team's third straight sellout...the next game is Saturday, Dec. 26, vs Bakersfield at home, 1PM.