PORTLAND — The words tasted like vinegar coming out of Chris Wright’s mouth.
“We just got outworked,” he said. “We really, really got outworked. I don’t know what else to say.”
That about summed up the Maine Red Claws’ 98-87 loss to the Sioux Falls Skyforce Sunday afternoon at the Portland Expo.
A back-and-forth game through three quarters fell apart for the Red Claws. They were not only outscored 29-18 in the quarter, but also outrebounded 16-8.
Hard to believe the Red Claws actually had a 26-18 edge on the boards at halftime.
“We were a little bit disappointed the way we played in the second half,” Maine Coach Mike Taylor said. “There were a lot of good things going on in the first half. I think our energy level let us down.”
Micah Downs again led Maine in scoring with 19 points. Wright combined 17 points with 12 rebounds. Shelvin Mack scored 15 points, with six assists. Forward Kris Joseph, fresh from his two-game stint with the Celtics, scored 14. Back-up center/forward Chris Ayer added 10.
Throughout the first half, there were 13 lead changes and four ties, as Maine led 54-51.
In the third quarter, Maine jumped ahead 66-57 after a thunderous dunk by the 6-foot-7 Joseph over 7-5 Sioux Falls center Will Foster.
But the Skyforce tied the game 69-69 at the end of the quarter, and took over in the fourth.
“Our guys did not maintain the tempo we needed to stay successful,” Taylor said. “I don’t know if our guys were tired. I don’t know what the situation was.
“But we didn’t have the right energy level on the defensive end. And we were outworked on the boards.”
One problem for Maine was 7-foot center Fab Melo again getting into foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul with 10:12 left in the third quarter. Before he could be subbed out, Melo picked up his fifth foul 18 seconds later. He sat for the next 13 minutes, eventually finishing with four points and nine rebounds.
“You try to defend and you try to play hard. And they call fouls,” Melo said. “You just have to play with it.”
Leading the Skyforce charge was 6-3 guard Andrew Goudelock, a backup last year with the Los Angeles Lakers.
Goudelock led all scorers with 24. He scored eight points in the last minute of the third quarter (a drive, and two 3’s), and nine points in the fourth.
Shelvin Mack’s 3-pointer closed Maine to 93-87 with 1:40 left. But Sioux Falls got two free throws, and then Goudelock’s 3-pointer clinched it with 39 seconds left.
One telling statistic was foul shooting. Sioux Falls made 22 of 29, Maine 8 for 15. The Red Claws did not drive to the basket enough to draw the fouls.
“We did not establish that attacking, aggressive mentality to get to the rim,” Taylor said, while also hinting that the close calls did not go his team’s way (20 Maine fouls, to 14 by Sioux Falls).
“The whistles were tough on us today.”
NOTES: Joseph was in uniform with the Celtics Saturday night in Milwaukee. His flight landed in Boston at 3 a.m. Sunday. In bed by 4, Joseph was up at 8 a.m. for his drive to the Expo. “That’s the business,” Joseph said … The announced attendance was 2,405 … Maine plays at 7 p.m. Thursday at Erie. … The Red Claws return to Portland next weekend to play Fort Wayne 7 p.m. Saturday at Canton 5 p.m. Sunday.