The Maine Red Claws held off the Erie BayHawks 82-78 in a hard-fought game in the Portland Expo last night.
The Claws started the game extremely strong, jumping out to an early lead. The Claws were playing without Alexis Ajinca, who was injured in the last game, or J.R. Giddens – their two NBA assignees. However, the team recently added Russell Robinson and Dominique Coleman. Robinson was acquired from the Reno Bighorns in exchange for Will Blalock, while Coleman – whose rights Maine acquired in the expansion draft – was signed from a European league. College basketball fans will remember Robinson from the University of Kansas’ 2008 championship run. According to GM Jon Jennings, both acquisitions were made with an eye towards improving the Red Claws’ defense.
The Claws started the game strong, jumping out to an early lead over the visiting BayHawks. They were able to effectively contain Mike Gansey in the first quarter, holding him to a meager 2 points. While he led his team to a resurgence in the second, finishing the first half with 13, it wasn’t enough for the BayHawks. The first half ended with a narrow 42-38 Maine lead, thanks in large part to the strong play of Darnell Lazare and Trey Gilder. Together Gilder and Lazare accounted for almost two-thirds of the team’s first-half points.
The third quarter started close as well, until an Ivan Harris three-pointer gave the BayHawks the lead. That was the start of a 14-2 run by the BayHawks, which gave them an eleven-point lead. Finally Dominque Coleman ended it with a layup, starting the Claws off on a run of their own that put them back within three points, which was where the third ended, with the Claws down 58-61.
The game stayed close throughout much of the fourth quarter as both teams stepped it up offensively. Neither was able to gain the upper hand for quite a while, and at the game’s three-minute mark it was 74-73 Erie. Then everything began to break the Red Claws’ way. Over the next three minutes, the BayHawks would miss shots and turn the ball over. In the final three minutes, the BayHawks would make one of five shots (including a free throw) while the Red Claws made five of seven shots (including a free throw). This, needless to say, resulted in a nice little run for the Red Claws, giving them some breathing room at the end of what could have been another overtime nailbiter.
The improvement in Maine’s defense was immediately apparent in this unusually low-scoring game. It was the first time in over a month that Maine held an opponent under 80 points. In January over 14 games opponents averaged 102.2 points a game against the Red Claws; in December over 10 games they’d been averaging 89 points a game. The team’s defensive upgrades will hopefully continue to prove effective as they move forward, allowing them to maintain their strong position in the Eastern Conference.
NOTES: There will be no previews or recap for Sunday’s game against the Springfield Armor, as I am going to the Celtics-Lakers game…Captain Billy Thomas is day-to-day with his injury…Alexis Ajinca and J.R. Giddens are in the process of being evaluated by their parent club, and it is unclear when they will return.
RED CLAWS NEXT THREE: Sunday, January 31 vs. Springfield Armor, 5:00PM…Friday, February 5 at Dakota Wizards, 8:00PM…Saturday, February 6 at Sioux Falls SkyForce 8:00PM.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Trey Gilder (22 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists)