Red Claws rally to victory in season opener, 118-109

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Jerome Seagears (11) of the Maine Red Claws drives to the basket past James Webb III of Delaware, right, in the second quarter of their game at the Portland Expo on Friday night.

PORTLAND — The Brandon Bailey Era started with a bang Friday night.

Andrew White made sure of it.

White came off the bench to score 37 points as the Maine Red Claws won their G League opener 118-109 before a crowd of 2,170 at the Portland Expo.

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The game marked the head coaching debut – at any level – of Bailey, a Chicago native who spent the previous seven seasons in the video department of the Boston Celtics. He took over from Scott Morrison, who earned a promotion to Coach Brad Stevens’ staff in Boston after leading the Claws to three straight Atlantic Division titles.

“Honestly, I was nervous before the game,” said Bailey, whose parents and sister were in the stands. “I tried to block it out. I tried to watch my language on the sideline.”

The visiting Delaware 87ers brought a lineup featuring four players on two-way NBA contracts, two from parent Philadelphia and two more from the Washington Wizards, who don’t have a G League affiliate. Oh, and Delaware also started a nine-year NBA veteran, Emeka Okafor, the No. 2 overall draft pick out of UConn in 2004 who is attempting to come back from a neck injury that kept him out of action since 2013.

“They have a talented roster, a lot of veteran players,” Bailey said. “That was a tough game to win. I’m real happy for our guys.”

Delaware led by as many as seven in the first quarter and 11 in the second before White sparked an 18-8 run to close the first half and send the Claws into the break trailing only 52-51.

On Delaware’s first possession of the second half, Claws guard Kadeem Allen stole the ball and, while falling into the stands (and accidentally spilling a woman’s drink), sent Maine on a fast break with Jabari Bird driving the lane and kicking out to L.J. Peak for a corner 3-pointer.

“He’s a defense-first guy,” Bailey said of Allen. “He’s getting a lot better on the offensive end of the floor but that’s who he is. He brings that energy, plays with great intensity.”

Bird capped the run with a driving layup that gave Maine a 58-52 lead and the Claws never again trailed.

Delaware managed to tie the score three times in the second half, as late as 97-97 with a little more than six minutes remaining.

But again, Maine’s defense came up big and the Claws drained all 10 of their free throws in the fourth quarter.

“Everybody hit big shots,” Bird said. “In key moments we got stops down the stretch. We’re still learning. We’re growing together. We’re all young guys. It should be a fun season.”

White sank 4 of 6 3-point attempts. That was as many as Delaware managed in 28 shots from beyond the arc. He also made 9 of 15 from inside the arc and was perfect on seven free throws.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” White said, “first pro game, adjusting to coming off the bench, a new role. I’m just trying to learn and figure out the system. My teammates did a great job of finding me. We have a really unselfish team and that helps everybody benefit.”

Daniel Dixon also came off the bench and hit 4 of 5 3-point shots. He finished with 14 points. Bird had 23 and Allen 21. They combined for 13 assists. Jon Holmes grabbed 10 rebounds.

“It was just a great team effort for the first win,” Bird said.

“It was a great atmosphere from the fans and we look forward to the next game on Sunday.”

NOTES: Mike Young led Delaware with 21 points. … Okafor, who played in five preseason games for Philadelphia, finished with seven points and 13 rebounds. … The Sunday matinee is against Erie, coached by Portland High graduate Josh Longstaff. Former Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo and his band will perform at halftime. … Every Red Claws head coach has won his Expo debut.

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