SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – The return of Fab Melo was fairly nondescript until the most important moment of the game.
The 7-foot Boston Celtics draft choice scored on a putback with 1.2 seconds left, lifting Maine to a 102-100 NBA Development League win over the Springfield Armor and rewarding a Red Claws team that had every right to be exhausted.
“I feel better than I thought I would,” said Melo, who had not played in 10 days after suffering a concussion from hitting his head on a door frame in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“I still have to get a feel for the ball and things like that. Defense is where I can help — I can bring that every game.”
Erie (10-6), Canton (12-8) and Maine (12-8) are locked in a virtual tie for first place in the East Division.
On Thursday, the Red Claws had traveled directly to Springfield from the NBA D-League Showcase in Reno, Nev. The journey took more than 16 hours, a grueling experience that did not stop Maine from building a 99-88 lead with 3:45 left.
Springfield rallied to tie it at 100 on Ben Uzoh’s layup with 35 seconds left. Uzoh was fouled on the play, then missed the tiebreaking free throw — one of the two crucial free throws the Armor missed in the final minute.
Springfield claimed the rebound off the missed free throw, them failed to convert two inside scoring chances. That gave Maine a final possession with 26 seconds left.
Shelvin Mack’s layup in traffic did not fall, but Melo deposited the rebound. The Armor’s Ramone Moore hit the rim with a 3-pointer at the buzzer, and Maine had improved to 7-2 on the road.
The Red Claws don’t feel their excellent road record is an accident.
“We have great chemistry. Everybody knows their job and it’s great to have guys like that,” said Mack, who was sensational with 26 points and 11 assists from the point.
“I think (the good road record) says something about the type of guys on our team,” Maine Coach Mike Taylor said.
“We’re built in the Celtics style, with a focus on team defense, and we try to find a balance with inside and perimeter scoring.”
Micah Downs had 26 points to share scoring honors with Mack.
Melo had six points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. He played 29 minutes, which was more than Taylor had expected of him.
DaJuan Summers (16 points, 7 rebounds) and Xavier Silas (13 points) were also productive.
The Red Claws host the Armor on Saturday night in the back end of this weekend’s home-and-home set.