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Professional basketball made it’s debut in Maine Friday night as the Maine Red Claws held their home opener at the newly renovated Portland Exposition Building. In front of Celtics GM Danny Ainge, NBA great Dave Cowens and a sold out crowd of 3,100, the Red Claws used a balanced scoring attack which saw eight players score at least eight points in a 102-79 win over Springfield.
“We just executed both on the defense and the offensive end,” Georgia Tech alum Mario West (team-high 19 points) said. “Anytime you can get stops and fast breaks and layups and get points on the other end, that helps.”
“When we got defensive stops we pulled ahead,” head coach Austin Ainge said. “And every time our defense lapsed they got back in the game. We can score, we have a lot of talented players so we’ll always be able score the ball so it’s about getting defensive stops when we need to.”
The Armor (0-3) trailed for most of the game but cut the lead to four with just more than 10 minutes to go in the game. They wouldn’t get any closer however as the Red Claws poured on the offense, outscoring Springfield 27-12 in the final quarter. Oklahoma State product JamesOn Curry was the star for the Armor, scoring a game-high 26 points on 10-19 shooting. Still, it wasn’t enough against the balanced Red Claws attack. West (19 points), Celtics product Bill Walker (14 points) and Tony Bobbit (14 points) helped lead a scoring attack which shot nearly 46% from the floor despite hitting just 1 of 12 three point shots. However, like the parent club the game was decided was on the defensive end of the floor. Several times in the second half the Armor pulled within six points but could not get it down to one possession.
“Our defense really did the job,” West said. “We got some blocks, we got some steals and some easy baskets at the other end and that really helps.”
“I had confidence in our guys that if they kept going and kept going they’d be able to pull away,” Ainge said. “I thought maybe Springfield ran out of gas a little bit and they were in some foul trouble. We were able to play a lot of players and rotate them through and I think that made a difference.”
“When we get stops we have a high percentage of what shots we get on offense,” Noel Felix (nine points, six rebounds) said. “Most of the time we do because we share the ball so well. The main thing is getting stops. They are a good team also so they are going to make runs.”
The Red Claws jumped out to a 10 point lead after the first quarter on 55% shooting. Both teams cooled off in the second and Maine took a seven point lead into halftime. A shootout third quarter – led by Curry’s 10 points – saw the lead go up to eight, before the Armor pulled within four on back to back buckets by Major Wingate. However, back to back easy buckets by the Red Claws stretched the lead to eight and they never looked back.
“We got some scorers, we got some shooters, we got some slashers, we have post players, we have it all,” West said. “We can just share the ball and whenever you can share the ball that means we’re moving the ball and getting everybody involved. That worked to our advantage tonight.”
“Coach did a great job bringing this team together over the summer,” Felix said. “Now that we’re together we have some vet guys and some young guys and we’re all talented and we play well together.”
“We just have a lot of good players,” Ainge said. “They shared the ball which is what we preach and it takes some good unselfish play. They hit the open and man and the others were able to convert.”
The game was played in front of a sold out crowd of 3,100 people at the Portland Expo. Despite having the smallest venue in the NBA D-League, the Red Claws have already sold more season tickets than any other franchise. The support did not go unnoticed.
“The crowd was amazing, it was great to have the energy out there and the support that we had,” West said. “We are happy to come out with the win but we know we still have a lot of work ahead of us and we can’t be satisfied with this.”
“It was exciting, it was exciting for us as much as it was for the fans,” Felix said. “We’ve been anticipating this before we even came to Maine.”
“It was a great night all around,” Ainge said. “The staff did an unbelievable job with the opening ceremonies and it was fitting. It was a great capper to a lot of hard work.”