The game felt won, and the ticket to the G League’s Eastern Conference semifinals felt punched.

And then, with one bad quarter, it all unraveled for the Maine Celtics.

Sam Merrill scored 28 points, Sharife Cooper and Nate Hinton added 23 and 22, respectively, and the Cleveland Charge erased a 14-point halftime deficit with a dominant third quarter to take down the Celtics, 113-100, in front of 1,527 fans in the first round of the playoffs at the Portland Expo.

Cleveland outscored Maine 39-11 in the third quarter.

Maine, which was led by 27 points from two-way player JD Davison and 16 from Kamar Baldwin, played without top scorer Luka Samanic after he was signed Tuesday by the Utah Jazz. Nevertheless, the Celtics caught fire from the field to start the game and had an 18-point lead in the first half.

Everything changed in a hurry in the third quarter, however, and a stronger fourth quarter for the Celtics wasn’t enough to keep the season alive.


“I thought we played well for three out of four quarters. … (But) they came out with just a different gear to them in the third, that was really the difference in the game,” Maine Coach Alex Barlow said. “We were never able to fully recover and get the momentum back completely.”

Maine hit nine of its first 11 shots, including six of its first seven 3-point attempts, and led 58-44 at halftime. But Merrill sparked a 9-0 run to start the third quarter, and though Davison answered with a floater, Cleveland scored the next 13 points to go ahead 66-60.

“They picked up the energy in the third quarter and switched up their defensive coverage,” Baldwin said. “They just really kept the ball on one side of the court. I felt like we were hurting them getting to the second side and getting into the paint, so they did a good job of making adjustments.”

While Cleveland went on its 22-2 run, Maine was 1 for 7 from the field and committed four turnovers.

“They came out and punched us in the face there in the third quarter,” Davison said. “We just waited too late to punch back.”

Barlow called two timeouts during the run to try to stop the bleeding, to no avail.


“The (message of) the first one was … they threw the first punch, now it’s our turn to respond,” Barlow said. “The second one, you’re trying to calm guys down. They just went on their big run, now it’s our turn to go on a bigger run.”

Maine did respond, with Davison (13 points in the fourth) hitting a 3-pointer after a Denzel Valentine drive to make it 96-90 with 6:20 to go. Davison missed his next 3-point try, however, and Cleveland scored five straight points to push the lead back to double digits.

“We had an open shot that we missed, and it felt like if we made that one, (Cleveland Coach Mike Gerrity) would have to use his last timeout with (six) minutes to go and now we’ve got all the momentum,” Barlow said. “You could see, if you looked at our bench, guys were ready to explode.”

The Celtics began the game with plenty of energy, riding a sizzling start to a 33-24 lead after the first quarter. Baldwin scored 10 of Maine’s first 13 points and was in double figures less than four minutes into the game.

“We were just playing together, the ball was finding me, and I was knocking down open shots,” Baldwin said. “(The ball) was moving side to side, everyone was touching it, everyone was having fun, and we were also playing good defense.”

Soon, the script changed completely, and a season of success – resulting in Maine’s first playoff berth in six years – came to an end.

“It was enlightening. Sometimes when you play a game and you think you’re up by a lot and you think it’s set in stone, you forget that there’s still life to live,” two-way player Mfiondu Kabengele said. “I give Cleveland a lot of credit, they responded, and that’s how we need to live. We need to be resilient, bounce back and keep that constant pressure.”

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