The Maine Red Claws finally found a way to beat the Mad Ants, powering past the visitors 122-97 last night in highest-scoring home game of the season.
Barely twenty-four hours after falling flat against the Mad Ants, the Red Claws returned to their winning ways in dramatic fashion. While Maine may have been helped by the absence of Wednesday’s leading scorer, Rob Kurz - who did not play due to injury – that was hardly the only factor. Despite their struggles, Fort Wayne has some talent, even apart from Kurz, as we have seen. Thursday night, though, no Mad Ant scored more than 20, and only one scored more than 15.
The Red Claws – led by the inspired play of Morris Almond – were lighting up both ends of the court, with a brilliant offensive performance and solid defensive play as well. Or at least, vastly more solid defense than Wednesday night. The revamped team looked like it was clicking together for the first time. In Springfield, Almond faced the pressure of being team leader: he had to perform every night just for the Armor to compete. However, with the Red Claws as loaded with talent as they now are, he is free to be himself. In a way, it’s similar to the transition Pierce made on the Celtics when the new Big Three was first established.
Almond responded by not only having his best night as a Red Claw, but his best this season so far, knocking down forty points. 24 of these came in the first half, when the Red Claws rolled out to a 75-56 lead. Indeed, the Red Claws outscored the Mad Ants 44-28 in the first quarter, an incredible performance even for the offensively-minded D-League.
The Red Claws started out strong from the very beginning, though the game was briefly close in the first quarter. This was when the Mad Ants had their one, very brief, lead of the game – it only lasted for a single possession. Then the Claws went on a run and never looked back, knocking in almost every basket and effectively limiting Fort Wayne’s shots.
Maine was on an impressive roll for, essentially, the entire game. Even a power outage didn’t stop them. With high winds and heavy rain lashing the state, much of the city lost power in the middle of the third quarter. The lights were only actually out for perhaps thirty seconds, but the game was delayed for fifteen or twenty minutes as officials determined how to deal with the situation. While the backup generator for the Expo immediately kicked in, it apparently didn’t have enough electricity to power the scoreboard and shot clock, so the game was finished old-school, with bullhorns and stop watches. Fortunately this didn’t affect the Red Claws, who continued to trounce the Mad Ants, shot clock or no shot clock.
Looking ahead to the stretch run of the D-League season, this game may well be remembered as a turning point, with the big win and odd circumstances letting the retooled team gel as a unit. If they can be consistently dominant against mediocre teams, they could finish the season on a very strong note.
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Morris Almond, obviously.
NEXT THREE: Sunday, February 28, vs. Erie BayHawks, 5:00PM…Tuesday, March 2, @ Fort Wayne Mad Ants, 7:00PM…Sunday, March 7, vs. Sioux Falls, 5:00PM.