PORTLAND – The Maine Red Claws know they have a good basketball team.
And they were about to prove it in front of the home crowd, leading one of the NBA D-League elite teams, the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
But the Claws couldn’t beat L.A.
Up by eight points with just over three minutes to play, Maine lost the lead, and the game, 97-94 at the Portland Expo.
Micah Downs paced the Red Claws with 22 points. Chris Wright scored 19. Shelvin Mack and Xavier Silas both tallied 16. Mack had nine assists. Fab Melo scored eight and grabbed 11 rebounds.
Maine (2-1) led throughout most of the game, but the D-Fenders (2-1) would not go away.
“What’s tough is when you work so hard, and defend so well and do so many good things,” Maine Coach Mike Taylor said. “You put yourself in a situation to win, you got to close it out.”
Up 92-84, the Red Claws fell prey to turnovers and got out of its offense. The D-Fenders rallied.
L.A. guard Darius Johnson-Odom, on loan from the Lakers roster, drilled a 3-pointer with 43 seconds left, closing the D-Fenders to within one, 94-93.
The Red Claws were not in sync on their next possession. Downs, a 6-foot-9 forward, tried a drive through traffic. Downs lost the ball, and L.A. rushed up the court, with Gary Flowers scoring the fast-break lay-up for a 95-94 lead with 24 seconds left.
“I was just trying to be aggressive, get to the line,” Downs said.
With its last possession, Maine again was not running smoothly as a 3-point try by Silas rimmed out.
“We had some poor decisions with how we managed those possessions,” Taylor said.
L.A. hit two free throws with three seconds left, and Mack’s desperation 3-point try hit the rim.
“They capitalized on our mistakes and turnovers,” Wright said. “Down the stretch, we were just over-zealous and excited. We should have just slowed it down.”
Melo, the 7-foot Boston Celtics center, was a force on defense and the boards — while also drawing three charges. He sat 12 minutes of the first half because of foul trouble. He finished with five fouls.
“The big thing is Fab is working hard and challenging shots,” Taylor said. “He did a really good job of protecting the rim.”
NOTES: The announced attendance was a sellout (3,045). Forward Justin Brownlee, claimed by Maine from the D-League’s available player pool on Monday, is off the roster. Brownlee repeatedly missed his flight to Portland and never showed up. Taylor said, “We have moved on. We’ll try to upgrade our team at the right time.” For now the roster spot is open.
The Celtics, concerned with depth, recalled Red Claws forward Kris Joseph on Friday. He scored two points in five minutes of play.
Jeremiah Rivers, the son of Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, and the Red Claws’ fifth-round draft pick, remains with the team, but on the inactive list as he continues to rehab after ankle surgery.
Staff Writer Kevin Thomas can be contacted at 791-6411 or at: