PORTLAND, ME – APRIL 16: Jordan Mickey #23 of the Maine Red Claws stretches for a rebound grabbed by C. J. Leslie #21 of the Raptors 905 in Game 1 of the NBADL Eastern Conference Finals on Sunday, April 16, 2017 at the Portland Expo in Portland.
PORTLAND — The Maine Red Claws established a lot of franchise firsts with their NBDL first-round series win over the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Coming back for seconds against Raptors 905 isn’t going to be easy, if Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final was any indication.
Maine never led Sunday inside a steamy Portland Expo before a crowd of 1,358. A lethal combination of leaky interior defense, inconsistent rebounding, unforced turnovers and poor self-discipline helped Raptors 905 cruise to a 109-84 win.
“They came in and really jumped on us and outworked us, and those two things usually win games in the playoffs,” Maine coach Scott Morrison said.
The Red Claws will need to rebound quickly. Game 2 of the best-of-three series is Wednesday night in Ontario.
Raptors 905, the Toronto Raptors’ affiliate, showed balance and depth at both ends. C.J. Leslie tallied a game-high 33 points to out-score Maine’s bench by himself by nine points. Antwaine Wiggings (13 points) and Brady Heslip (10 points) also reached double figures to help Raptors 905 reserves outscore Maine’s, 69-24.
Jordan Mickey led Maine with 21 points and 12 rebounds. NBDL Rookie of the Year Abdel Nader added 14 points, but shot just 3-for-16 from the floor against the league’s top-rated defense during the regular season.
Boston Celtics first-round draft choice Guerschon Yabusele had his worst game since joining Maine at the end of the regular season, finishing with nine points and four rebounds in 28 minutes off the bench.
Maine shot 37 percent (25-for-68) from the floor and turned the ball over 23 times. The Red Claws also drew three technical fouls.
Behind Leslie (13 points, four rebounds in the first quarter), Raptors 905 took control of the paint in the first quarter. It outscored Maine, 18-6, inside, augmented by eight offensive rebound that led to an 11-0 advantage in second-chance points.
“We’ve got to figure out a way to respond to that over the next 48 hours,” Morrison said. “We can’t be losing that battle with the roster we have if we want to win the game.”
“We like to play inside-out,” 905 coach Jerry Stackhouse said. “We like to pound it in because we’ve got guys that can score it around the rim, and great facilitators that can make plays for other guys.”
On the occasion Maine did clear the glass, it often negated the stop with one of its seven turnovers. Raptors 905 ended the quarter with its largest lead to that point, 29-17.
It extended the lead as high as 14 before the Red Claws tightened up defensively in the second quarter. A Yabusele jump hook and Jalen Jones 3-pointer highlighted a 13-2 Maine run that got it as close as two points with 1:12 to go in the first half.
It was never a one-possession game again, Raptors 905 extended the margin to 50-44 at the half, then scored the first six points of the second half. The Claws briefly closed to within seven after a Cameron Ayers trey and Nader drive to the hoop. But 905 pulled away with a 23-5 run as Maine went nearly six minutes without a field goal.
“I thought our defense was solid for all 48 minutes,” Stackhouse said. “That’s who we are. We just want to make it tough on teams, tough on individuals to score against us.. We try to guard as a unit as opposed to just individual defense. We got a little bit of separation there (in the third quarter).”
“They’ve got good length on the perimeter. Their bigs are tough, and they’ve got guys like John Jordan pressuring the ball,” Morrison said. “It’s a perfect storm for defense. Plus, they execute.”