PORTLAND — It just looked like one of those off-games Saturday for the Maine Red Claws.

You could see it on their faces, in their shots and in the way they were constantly playing from behind, unable to swing the momentum of their do-or-die playoff game.

Then came a spurt late in regulation. The Red Claws hit some shots and made some stops. They had the momentum and cut the deficit down to two. The crowd was electrified and for a few brief moments, Maine looked like they might be within reach of a fantastic finish.

“That was our moment for sure,” forward Chris Babb said. “They got a couple of baskets, and once they got back up, they got it back up to eight or 10 again.”

The late rally was just a brief flourish, and the Fort Wayne Mad Ants finished off the 121-111 win at the Portland Expo and eliminate the Red Claws in their Eastern Conference semifinal.

“The fact that we battled back was impressive,” Red Claws coach Scott Morrison said. “We just couldn’t get the big shots or get the big plays.”


Being swept in the best-of-three playoff series for the second straight time was a disappointing end for the Red Claws. This team had won the Atlantic Division with the league’s best record of 35-15. Maine earned the top seed in the playoffs, but the Red Claws have still never won a playoff game.

“I told them that anytime you lose like that is tough,” Morrison said. “Everyone from myself on down will learn something from that game. At the end of the day, we have to keep our heads up because we had a great season. We had a lot of firsts and all-time bests and so forth for the team.

“From an individual standpoint, there were a lot of success stories. Our job is to develop players and provide a good place for a guy like James Young to get a chance to play. I think that we accomplished those two goals, even if we fell shot of this one.”

The defending D-League champs from Fort Wayne were the fourth seed and rallied to beat Maine in overtime Tuesday in the first game of the series. Dating back to last season, the Mad Ants have won eight straight playoff games and have won seven of their last eight games.

“We’ve got a belief now,” Fort Wayne coach Connor Henry said. “That’s been built in. That’s seven of eight. We had to win at least four or five down the stretch to get to 28 wins. We knew 28 wins was the magic number, and we did it. We won on the road and then came home to face the No. 1 seed. We feel like we’re battle-tested down the stretch.”

Saturday’s Mad Ant’s performance was especially impressive considering the players arrived in Maine less than three hours before the game because of travel delays. The coaching staff arrived late Friday night, after three delayed flights. The players were stranded in Philadelphia. After two delayed flights Saturday morning, the team arrived just after noon for the 4 p.m. game.


“There wasn’t a whole lot to say on the board,” Henry said after their arrival and “sour” disposition from the delays. “I just told them that this is like going to the park and playing a game of pick up. ‘You’ve got to be loose. You know what they’re going throw at us.’ We knew our defensive assignments. They said, ‘We’re cool, Coach.'”

Former Celtic Jordan Crawford led Fort Wayne with 36 points. C.J. Fair added 31, while Matt Bouldin had 23. Romero Osby led the Red Claws with 33. Davion Berry had 23 while Chris Babb finished with 16. James Young was also in double figures with 10.

“We’ve been waiting for Jordan to have one of these games because we know he’s capable,” Henry said.

Crawford scored 14 points in the final quarter, including a 3 with 2:06 left that answered a Red Claw rally. Maine was down by as many as 14 in the fourth. Osby led the charge with 15 in the final quarter. Down 108-94, he he scored on a drive and then had a 3-point play to make it 108-99 with 4:04 left. A Young 3 followed to get Maine within 108-102. After a Berry jumper with 2:53 left, Osby drove to the basket to get Maine within 108-106 with 2:26 remaining.

“We made a couple shots that we hadn’t been making,” said Babb, who was immediately out the door to join the Celtics. “We made a couple shots and made a couple of stops and got back into it.”

Maine’s rally ended there, however. Crawford answered with a 3. Then Fair followed with a jumper to build the lead again. After a Crawford steal, Bouldin scored to make it 117-106. He followed that up with a steal and layup for a run of 11 straight points.


“We took a time out with three minutes left and we were down four or six,” Morrison said. “It looked to me like Crawford was gassed. I thought maybe we had them on the ropes. We came down and missed a shot and he hit a shot in our face. He showed why he’s an NBA player.”

Maine finished shooting 47.6 percent from the floor and just 28.2 percent from 3-point range. The Red Claws also shot just 66.7 percent from the free-throw line.

“That’s basketball,” Babb said. “That’s what we’ve been doing. Those are the shots that we make a lot of the time. We got open looks. We played our same offense. We got a lot of open shots. They didn’t fall for us. It was a bad time for them not to fall.”

That was the case the whole game for the Red Claws. Maine got behind early, trailing 33-26 after the first quarter. Fort Wayne finished the first with a 7-1 run, including a 3 by Xavier Thames in the final seconds.

When Maine’s shots didn’t fall early, the frustration was obvious and keeping pace with the Mad Ants was going to be a challenge. The Red Claws were 11-for-39 from 3-point range overall.

“Our 3-point shots have been a staple of our offense all season,” Morrison said. “It’s won a lot of games for us, but tonight our best shooters were shooting less than 25 percent. Against a team that’s shooting well, that’s not going to get it done.”


Fort Wayne had the lead at 60-54 at the half, finishing with a 10-5 flurry. Maine was down by as many as 16 in the third but started to get some defensive stops. Free throws by Berry and baskets by Andre Stringer got Maine within 89-79 entering the fourth.

Maine got within eight points once and nine points three times, but Fort Wayne always had an answer. When the Red Claws made their move in the final minutes and got within two, the Mad Ants finished with a 13-5 run to seal it. The 121 points was the most the Red Claws have allowed in a playoff game.

“I thought our best offense was to attack and sometimes I thought we settled,” Morrison said. “We still scored 111 points even without shooting well. Defensively,  we could have done a better job. We needed to shoot the ball better and rebound better than we did tonight.”


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