The Maine Red Claws fell to the Erie BayHawks, ending their playoff hopes and season.
After going 0-4 on the recent road trip, then losing to a team they’ve struggled against all year on Friday, the Claws must have had high hopes for their Saturday matchup. After all, they’d been 7-0 against the BayHawks so far this season, and all they needed was a win and a loss from either of two teams to sneak into the playoffs. Of course, they shouldn’t have had to sneak in – they had plenty of opportunities to decisively grab a playoff spot for themselves.
This season it was not to be. The evening started with a moving pregame ceremony, where the Red Claws retired the number “1″ in honor of their fans, showing appreciation for the best fans in the D-League. Tommy Heinsohn addressed the crowd, thanking us for our dedication all season.
Unfortunately, all of that was not enough to motivate the players. The Red Claws started slowly, and ended up trailing for most of the first half. The Claws struggled to a four-point deficit at the half, with Blake Ahearn of the BayHawks and Maine’s Morris Almond leading their teams in the close game. The Claws were again missing Paul Davis and T.J. Cummings, both of whom had been major contributors.
Wearing Celtics green on Friday may have gotten in the players’ heads, because Maine fell apart in the third quarter. A nearly-even halftime game turned into a double-digit deficit for the home team. Maine mounted a comeback in the fourth – helped along by Almond’s 33 points, Mo Ager‘s 22 points, and Russell Robinson‘s 23 – but it wasn’t enough. As have the Celtics so often this season, they had dug themselves in far too deep a hole by the time they mounted their furious rally, and they could not overcome it in the fourth quarter.
Just when things started to again get close, and it looked like Maine might pull out a somewhat-miraculous comeback, they reverted to the poor decision-making that had got them behind in the first place. This included what was, at times, remarkably bad shot selection. The Red Claws were 28% from downtown all night, and they shot just 24-38 from the foul line.
Kurt Looby, starting in place of Paul Davis, put in an impressive effort on Saturday. Although he only had 6 points, he had a double-double with 10 blocked shots and 11 rebounds on his way to breaking the D-League record for blocked shots in a season. This kind of defensive effort is always impressive, but doubly so in the offensive-minded D-League.
All in all, the Red Claws had a remarkable season, especially for an expansion franchise. They firmly planted themselves in the hearts and minds of Mainers on the way to becoming the first D-League team to sell out every home game. Bill Ryan, Jon Jennings, and Austin Ainge deserve praise for their efforts in their inaugural campaign. Ryan and Jennings did very well with the business side of things, from ticket sales to customer service to marketing, and Ainge acquitted himself well in his first season as coach.
Despite the disappointing finish, all three of them – and everyone else on the staff – should be proud of an enormously successful first season. To paraphrase Hoosiers, regardless of the standings at the end of the season, in my book the Red Claws are winners.