PORTLAND – This has been a brutal month for the Maine Red Claws, but they found a way to exit January with a smile by beating the best team in the NBA Development League.
DeShawn Sims took back the lead on an 8-foot turnaround jumper with 13 seconds left, and Avery Bradley clinched it with two free throws for a 109-106 win over the Tulsa 66ers on Sunday before another sold-out Expo crowd of 3,045.
Sims paced Maine with 26 points, and Bradley sparked the defense with nine steals, tying the league record for most steals in a game.
Tulsa (22-7) had been enjoying a spotless January, on its way to a 14-game win streak, the third-longest in league history.
And the 66ers — named after the famous Route 66 that runs through Tulsa — led most of Sunday’s game. But Maine (12-17) found a way to win, despite a month that featured a 4-10 record, including eight road games. All but one of them was a loss.
“It’s been very tough and very long,” Ainge said. “We’ve played a lot of games and flown a lot of miles. And I’m glad we got this one because I was able to give my guys a much-needed day off (today).”
What Ainge really liked was Tulsa’s output in the fourth quarter: 17 points.
“That’s just something we have harped on and harped on,” Ainge said of the defense.
Tulsa pounded Maine on the boards, for a 50-36 advantage, but the Red Claws countered with a quick, pestering defense, causing 20 steals, with Bradley chief among the thieves.
“It was our team pressure,” Bradley said. “Our guards wanted to make a point that we were going to get into their guards. That’s what we did. Our pressure led to steals.”
Bradley, the Boston Celtics’ first-round draft pick last year, also scored 14 points and recorded seven assists. But it was his defense that helped win Sunday.
“That’s not something we’ve taught him,” Ainge said. “He has been that good. And he’s going to get better. He’s an elite defender, even at the NBA level. And his offense will continue to improve as he gets experience.”
With four minutes left in the game, Bradley’s steal, drive and assist to Antonio Anderson’s 3-pointer tied the game at 98.
Anderson, acquired 10 days ago from Rio Grande in a trade for Matt Janning, hit 3-of-4 3-pointers, part of Maine’s 12-for-26 effort from beyond the arc.
Sims gave Maine a 105-103 lead with two free throws with 1:17 left, but Tulsa’s Robert Vaden — an alum of Bridgton Academy — hit a 3-pointer with 24 seconds to go, for a 106-105 Tulsa lead.
Maine called timeout. Ainge told guard Jamar Smith and the 6-foot-8 Sims to work a pick-and-roll play.
But Tulsa switched defenders and Sims was still guarded as Smith dribbled around. Smith stayed with the play. Sims opted for a jump shot.
“Jamar worked really hard to get me the ball,” said Sims. “And I capitalized.”
Tulsa guard Brandon Brooks then drove toward the basket but missed his runner. There was a scramble for the loose ball and Bradley grabbed it.
“They … made the plays down the stretch,” Tulsa Coach Nate Tibbetts said. “This is a tough place to play. They do a great job with the fan support.”
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: