PORTLAND – And so it continues.
The Maine Red Claws again showed signs of being a very good team Friday night, but not enough.
The Texan Legends came into the sweltering Portland Expo and rattled the Red Claws throughout the final three quarters en route to a 114-95 victory before a sellout crowd of 3,045.
The Red Claws led early but fell behind in the final minute of the first quarter and never led again.
“We were just playing too fast,” said forward DeShawn Sims, who led the Red Claws with 18 points. “Last game (a 117-94 victory over Fort Worth) we seemed to be in sync, like we were playing all together. Today we were just playing too fast.
“They pressured us, we turned the ball over. I had six turnovers myself. We were just playing too fast and not making the right reads.”
Maine had just three turnovers in the first quarter but finished with 22.
“They took us out of what we wanted to run and we didn’t handle it well,” said Red Claws Coach Austin Ainge.
The loss moved the Red Claws (15-28) closer to playoff elimination. With just seven games left — only two at home — the Red Claws would have to win out to have a chance to reach the playoffs.
“We just have to keep fighting,” said Ainge. “That’s all we can do.”
The Legends, meanwhile, improved to 20-24 and are just half a game behind Fort Wayne for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Red Claws and Legends play again Sunday at the Expo at 1 p.m.
Once the Legends started to control the tempo of the game, they wouldn’t let it go. Every time the Red Claws made a move, Texas responded.
Late in the second quarter, the Red Claws tied the game at 44 on two foul shots by Sims, but the Legends scored the next nine points to resume control. The Red Claws had three turnovers in that stretch.
Then Maine got within three points early in the third quarter, but the Legends ran off the next six points, all on layups. Texas eventually built a 19-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“It seemed every time we made a run, they would hit a big 3 or get an offensive rebound,” said Ainge. “But against a team like that, you can’t give up so many easy layups because of turnovers.”
Texas Coach Nancy Lieberman said her team is slowly learning how to play together.
“We’re just trying to weather storms and come back with something of our own,” she said. “We want to be aggressive. We try to be aggressive. We don’t want to say, ‘Gee, I wish I had ‘ We want to say, ‘I’m glad I did.’
“Because what do you get when you say, ‘Gee, I wish I had?’ “
Texas was aggressive on both ends of the court. The Legends attacked the boards, collecting 17 offensive rebounds, six resulting in dunks. And many of their 10 steals led to fast-break points: Texas had 26 to the Red Claws’ 10.
Dominique Johnson led the Legends with 23 points, hitting 5 of 8 3-pointers. Sean Williams, a 6-foot-10 center out of Boston College, had 21 and 10 rebounds, six on the offensive end. Normally those two combine for 26.5 points per game.
“Sean Williams, when he dominates like he did tonight, what an inside presence he gives us,” said Lieberman.
She had high praise for the defense of Johnson and Chris Roberts on Maine’s Jamal Smith, who had 13 points but seldom got free.
NOTES: Before the game, Lieberman met with Lisa Manning and talked about old times. Both played at Old Dominion University. Manning is from Westbrook and was known then as Lisa Blais. She played on the Monarchs’ first NCAA championship team. Lieberman went on to become perhaps the No.1 ambassador for women’s basketball. … One of Lieberman’s assistants is David Wesley, the former Boston Celtics guard.
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: [email protected]