ERIE, Pa. — With Jermaine Taylor nursing a back injury that kept him out for most of the second half Friday night, the Maine Red Claws spread the points around to keep their D-League playoff hopes alive.
Chris Smith led six players in double figures with 23 points, and the Red Claws jumped to a big early lead and held off the Erie BayHawks 110-99 at Erie Insurance Arena.
Maine (26-23) will make the playoffs for the first time by beating the BayHawks (25-24) in a regular-season finale Saturday night.
Maine also can make the playoffs with a loss, if Sioux Falls also loses to Iowa. If the Red Claws lose and Sioux Falls wins, Sioux Falls is in.
The Red Claws also have the possibility of reaching the No. 7 seed in the eight-team playoffs, but only if they win their finale, Sioux Falls loses, and Fort Wayne falls to Tulsa.
Coach Mike Taylor said he reminded his players before the game to wipe those scenarios from their minds and simply focus on playing hard against an Erie team missing its second-leading scorer, Mustafa Shakur.
“Everybody understood the stakes,” Taylor said. “We told them the coaches would worry about all that other stuff, they just needed to come out and play. We were able to eliminate (Erie) tonight and that was important. Now we’ll find out where we are.”
Jermaine Taylor, averaging 30.2 points per game, was limited to four points in 13 minutes. He played only about a minute in the second half.
“Obviously he’s a big part of what we do,” Mike Taylor said. “When he went out it kind of balanced the playing field because they were without Shakur.”
Wright helped fill that void by hitting 10 of 18 shots and adding 13 rebounds. Omar Reed had 20 points, Josh Selby 19 and Curtis Jerrells 16.
Fab Melo, who dominated inside in the first half, hit all seven of his shots for the Red Claws and scored 14 points. Mark Tyndale added 13.
“Everybody picked it up,” Wright said. “These are our playoffs right now. Both of these games are like playoff games and that was our approach all week.”
Maine never trailed and jumped to a 16-point lead early, but Erie trimmed it to 32-31 with 9:35 to go in the first half.
Behind Melo and Wright, they rebuilt the lead to 56-45 at the half.
“When they made their run we responded,” Mike Taylor said. “That was huge.”
The BayHawks shot their way back into the game, hitting three straight 3-pointers during a run that cut it to 105-99 with 47 seconds to play.
But the Red Claws hit 5 of 6 foul shots to seal it.