PORTLAND – Well, this one is going to hurt. For a while.
Leading by 21 points with just under six minutes left in the third quarter, the Maine Red Claws lost their composure, their rhythm, their grit and most important, the game.
The Iowa Energy showed why they’re the best team in the NBA Development League, rallying for an improbable 111-102 victory before a mostly stunned crowd of 2,910 at the Portland Expo.
Or maybe it wasn’t so improbable.
The Energy showed what can happen when a team imposes its will on another. And that’s what happened over the final 17 minutes, 54 seconds.
Iowa’s second unit — Ben Strong (21 points), Nick Covington (17 points), Nick Murphy, Anthony Simpson and Russell Carter — came in and challenged every Maine shot. While the Red Claws had hit almost everything early, they hit nothing in the end game.
“Their second unit came in and punked us,” said Paul Harris, who had 21 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds for Maine. “They made us look soft. They got every loose ball. We weren’t cutting hard, they were bumping us. We stopped being physical. They just wanted it more than we did.
“I’m really hurt. The competitor that I am, this is sickening.”
The meltdown began with the Red Claws (3-6) leading 81-60 on a Tic Snow 20-footer with 5:54 left in the third. In came the second unit and Iowa (8-3) would score 15 consecutive points before Dominic Calegari hit two foul shots for Maine. But Iowa scored the final six points of the third to close within 83-81.
There, Covington opened with a long 3, to give Iowa its first lead. Then Simpson stole the inbounds pass and laid it in for an 86-83 lead. From that point it was simply a matter of the Energy extending the lead, eventually hitting 13. Iowa finished on a 51-21 run.
Asked what he said to get his team back in the game, Energy Coach Kevin Young said, “I told them to wake up, basically. I thought our guys really picked up our overall fight in the second half. Really our bench guys came out with a chip on their shoulders when I put them in.
“My assistant kept telling me they might need a rest. I said, ‘They’re going to have to pass out out there before I take them out.’ “
The Energy contested every shot the Red Claws took in the final quarter. And the Red Claws seldom tried to penetrate, settling for shots that were falling early. After scoring 42 points in the first quarter — their highest-scoring quarter of the season — the Red Claws scored just 60 over the final three.
“Credit to Kevin,” said Dave Leitao, coach of the Red Claws. “He put the second unit in there. They defended our shooters. They got out on us and we didn’t make an adjustment. We kept shooting, shooting and shooting.”
“It seemed like we started to settle for shots (in the second half) instead of attacking the rim,” said Calegari. “They were falling in the first half, then in the second, once we started to go cold, instead of trying to attack the rim, we tried to shoot our way out of it and it just didn’t work out for us,”
Calegari couldn’t remember a game when his team lost a 21-point lead.
“I can’t remember feeling anything as bad as this feels,” he said.
NOTES: Courtney Pigram again led the Red Claws in scoring,with 27 points. Justin Brownlee added 23. They combined to go 8 of 19 in 3-pointers Plenty of tickets remain for today’s rematch between these teams at the Expo at 1 p.m. Stat of the night, maybe the season — the Red Claws had 17 assists on 17 baskets in the first quarter.
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: