With the regular season dwindling down, the Maine Celtics know they can’t afford many more losses if they want to qualify for the playoffs.

Thursday night, they showed they’re ready to make a run.

Down 18 in the second quarter, the Celtics roared back to topple the Motor City Cruise 107-87 at the Portland Expo. Maine pressured Motor City shooters relentlessly and hit 52 percent of its shots in the second half to pull away before an appreciative crowd of 1,425.

“This is a team that has beaten us twice already,” said Maine Coach Jarell Christian. “And the message I gave to the team was, we only have two guys active tonight that were part of those teams. So we’ve got a new team, a new roster, from the last time we played those guys. This was more of a redemption night for us.”

The victory, Maine’s fifth in a row at home, lifted the Celtics to 10-12. Motor City, which entered the game in first place in the Eastern Conference, dropped to 16-7 and into third place.

The Celtics were aided by the addition of center Luke Kornet and guard Sam Hauser, who returned to the team from the Boston Celtics on Thursday. Kornet was immense, with 20 points, six rebounds and seven blocked shots. Hauser added 12 points and five assists.


Matt Ryan also scored 20 points, along with six rebounds and three assists, while Chris Clemons recorded his fourth triple-double of the season with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists. Brodric Thomas scored 17 points, 11 coming in the second half.

Kornet’s defense was important in the second-half surge. The Cruise hit 9 of 21 3-pointers in the first half, which ended with them ahead 53-50 after Maine finished the second quarter with a 17-2 run. Motor City made just 2 of 23 3-pointers in the second half.

“That was an emphasis for us (at the half),” said Clemons. “We let Luke take the guys at the rim and we let our perimeter guys fan out, just a little bit closer to their shooters, making their shots a little harder. And we were confident that our shots would fall. And they did.”

After hitting just 38 percent of their shots in the first half, the Celtics shot 52 percent in the second half. Many came inside, instead of settling for 3-pointers.

The Celtics took the lead 2:17 into the third, at 58-57, when Thomas scored on a power drive. Ryan then scored on a backdoor cut, and it was 60-57.

Motor City tied it on a 3-pointer by Jamorko Pickett, who led the Cruise with 18 points. That was the first of three ties in the third quarter, the final one at 64. Kornet broke it with 6:42 left on a thunderous dunk off a lob from Clemons.

That started a 19-6 run that gave Maine an 85-70 lead going into the fourth. Motor City never cut into that margin.

“We’ve had two solid wins in a row against the top two teams in the East,” said Ryan, alluding to Sunday’s home win against now-first-place Toronto that ended a five-game losing streak. “That’s a really great turning point for us after that losing streak. We’re just trying to ride the wave a little bit now.”


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