If talk and speculation ever become reality and Rajon Rondo joins the Maine Red Claws for a game or two, he will learn a key to Maine’s offense:
Get the ball to Frank Gaines.
Gaines, the rookie shooting guard, scored a career-high 33 points Tuesday to lead the Red Claws to a 103-96 win over the Delaware 87ers before 2,592 at the Portland Expo.
Gaines also set team records for free throws made and attempted (17 of 20), helping Maine (6-6) end a four-game losing streak.
The 87ers, also known as the “Sevens,” dropped to 3-12.
Delaware is a new franchise, owned by its parent club, the Philadelphia 76ers.
Boston is still affiliated with the Celtics, which has fueled hopes that Rondo, coming back from a severe knee injury, might play some rehab games with Maine.
Celtics Coach Brad Stevens began the speculation Monday with the thought Rondo could get in shape playing for the Red Claws.
Stevens qualified his words Tuesday, saying thoughts of Rondo playing or even just practicing with the Red Claws, are “still very much a talking point more than a certainty.”
Meanwhile, the Red Claws were trying to get out of their skid. They did with a strong performance from the starters.
Besides, Gaines, there was forward Chris Wright (19 points, six blocked shots), center Ty Walker (13 points, six blocks), small forward Chris Babb (13 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, five steals) and point guard Marcel Anderson (10 points, four assists).
While loving Gaines’ points, Coach Mike Taylor was impressed with Babb’s overall game. Babb, 6-foot-5, was in the Celtics’ preseason camp.
“Chris Babb is a coach’s dream,” Taylor said. “He is so intelligent out on the court. He does a lot of little things that help you win a game.”
Gaines, 6-5, was overlooked by NBA teams but was the Red Claws’ second-round draft pick. He seems to be working out.
“He’s asserting himself really well,” Taylor said. “We really like his potential. He did a great job getting to the line. He’s an athletic slasher that can finish. He can shoot and he’s difficult to defend.”
Gaines said he benefited from the Red Claws’ system, “with a lot of plays going to me. My teammates set the screens.”
The Red Claws used Gaines, and the inside strength of Walker and Wright to build a 47-34 lead midway through the second quarter.
But as they’ve done during the losing streak, the Red Claws let their lead slip away.
Delaware rallied to trail 50-49 at halftime and stayed close until the closing minutes.
Taylor wanted the win and, even though Maine has four games to play in a six-game span, kept his starters in much of the time.
All five played more than 33 minutes, with Babb and Wright around 40.
“We had to (play the starters),” Taylor said. “The issue for me is we’re not getting much bench production. We have seven or eight first-year players in the league and it can be difficult for (young) players to be consistent.”
Maine’s bench had 15 points.
Delaware kept threatening but with 1:17 left, Anderson’s 3-pointer gave Maine a 97-92 lead.
Ahead 99-94, Babb took a charge with 27 seconds left and the Red Claws clinched the game with free throws.
The Red Claws return to the Expo at 7 p.m. Thursday against Tulsa.
NOTE: Concerning the Rondo rumors, there is speculation he would join the Red Claws when the Celtics go on a long trip that begins Sunday. But after Sunday’s home game, the Red Claws leave on a week-long trip to Nevada and California. They won’t return until mid-January.
Kevin Thomas can be reached at 791-6411 or at:[email protected]Twitter: KevinThomasPPH