Abdel Nader of the Maine Red Claws shoots over Stephan Hicks of the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants in Game 3 of their NBA Development League first-round playoff series Wednesday at the Portland Expo in Portland.
PORTLAND — Game 3 between the Maine Red Claws and Fort Wayne Mad Ants was a big one for the host Red Claws, who were looking for their first home playoff win and first playoff series win in franchise history.
It was a big three that helped lead the Red Claws to that long-awaited and historic victory, a come-from-behind, 124-119 decision at the Portland Expo on Wednesday.
“It’s a big victory for the franchise,” Red Claws forward Jordan Mickey said. “Got the first-ever playoff win the other night in Fort Wayne, and the first-ever series win for them, for Crustacean Nation. It’s big for them. I’m sure they’re happy; we’re happy, and we want to try to continue.”
The Red Claws now advance to play Raptors 905 in the Eastern Conference Finals of the NBA Development League playoffs. Game 1 is Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Expo.
To get to the next round, it took a never-used-before lineup for the Red Claws.
“We ended up going big,” Maine coach Scott Morrison said. “For the first time all year we played Jalen Jones at the 3, and had him out there with Guerschon (Yabusele) and Jordan, Abdel (Nader) at the 1, and then rotated Coron (Williams) and Art (Edwards). Just tried to stay a little bit bigger, keep our rebounders on the floor and just trying to do something to keep them off the glass and keep them from getting to the rim, because they’d been killing us in both those areas for three games.”
Jones led Maine with 30 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, when the Red Claws rallied back from an eight-point deficit.
“Basketball’s a game of runs,” Mickey said. “It’s a long game. No matter how much time is on that clock, it’s a lot of game left. We just never got our heads down, we just kept playing and chipping away at the lead.”
Jones chopped the gap to five with just under nine minutes left, converting a three-point play to make it 100-95 Fort Wayne. The 6-foot-8 forward later added a pair of free throws, then Williams drained a 3-pointer with 7:40 left to tie the game up at 100-100.
The Mad Ants twice took the lead back, but Jones answered Travis Leslie’s 3 with one of his own, then connected on a baseline jumper after Georges Niang hit two free throws.
Mickey gave the Red Claws the lead with a spinning layup that turned into a three-point play with 5:49 left to play.
“Coach had faith in me, he gave me the ball,” Mickey said. “My teammates had faith in me. I just wanted to try to make a play for my team.”
Maine never trailed again, and the Red Claws kept making enough plays to keep the Mad Ants at an arm’s length.
“We just kept playing,” Nader said. “There’s nothing special that we did, it’s not one or two things. We had a game plan and we stuck to it.”
Nader’s shining moment came with 28.2 seconds left, when he drove to the hoop and dunked on Niang — his former Iowa State University teammate. That made it 118-115 Maine.
“Oh, that was on him? Dang it,” Nader said. “I think it was big. I think we just needed a bucket, and that’s what I was trying to do.
“They kind of left me a little bit, and I had an open lane.”
Nader finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Yabusele equaled that point total, while adding nine rebounds.
Nader dished an alley-oop to Yabusele in the second quarter after a Yabusele block at the other end. That gave the Red Claws their biggest lead of the game at 55-43.
“That’s just a testament to him,” Nader said. “He made that play possible with his defensive effort, and then he ran the floor faster than I’ve seen anybody run the floor in a long time, and I just tried to make the right play.”
Nader called Yabusele’s energy “extremely” contagious.
“He’s made an impact every game, pretty much. No more than he did tonight,” Morrison added. “He got some big buckets when he rolled to the hoop, some key rebounds in the defensive end. He had one big one right at the end of the fourth quarter.”
Trey McKinney-Jones paced the Mad Ants with 30 points, including 11 in the fourth, but he missed a finger roll lay-in right after Nader’s dunk on Niang. Mickey pulled down the rebound and made both free throws to make it a two-possession game.
Leslie hit a 3 to cut it to 120-118, but Nader and Yabusele both made a pair of free throws — with Leslie converting just 1 of 2 in between — for the final margin.
Jordan Mickey of the Maine Red Claws gathers in a pass while defended by Georges Niang of the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants in Game 3 of their NBA Development League first-round playoff series Wednesday at the Portland Expo in Portland.
Jalen Jones of the Maine Red Claws ducks under Georges Niang of the Ft. Wayne Mad Ants in Game 3 of their NBA Development League first-round playoff series Wednesday at the Portland Expo in Portland.