Jalen Jones wasn’t about to let this one get away.
One of Maine’s scoring leaders all season, Jones entered the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon with only three points. When visiting Salt Lake City climbed out of a 12-point hole to take a lead early in the fourth quarter, Jones and the Red Claws responded.
On four consecutive possessions during crunch time, the Red Claws drained a 3-pointer. Jones had two of them, both late in the shot clock, to lead Maine to a 104-95 D-League victory before 2,717 at the Portland Expo.
Jones wound up scoring 11 of his 14 points in the game’s final six minutes, to go along with a season-high 17 rebounds. The Claws (28-17) won their fourth straight and reduced to two their magic number for clinching a third consecutive Atlantic Division title.
With five games remaining, Maine holds a 4.5-game lead over second-place Delaware.
“Other guys were in a good groove so I felt like I needed to focus more on the other things going on in the game to try and help the team win,” Jones said. “I happened to get a lot of rebounds (Sunday) to help. I’m just glad I could contribute.”
Abdel Nader led all scorers with 25 points and added 10 rebounds and six assists. Jordan Mickey, on assignment from the Celtics for the second time this week, contributed 21 points, eight rebounds and six blocks.
“He’s a great defender,” Nader said of Mickey, “very versatile, can switch onto the smaller guards and defend them, too, so it’s a great asset for him to be here.”
The Claws jumped to an early lead and led by 49-40 at intermission, helped by unusually poor free-throw shooting (8 for 17) by Salt Lake City in the first half.
The Stars (14-30) picked it up after the break, however, and had success in transition. They outscored Maine 30-4 on fast-break points and eventually tied the score at 76 early in the fourth quarter on a monster one-handed put-back by Chane Behanan, one of his six offensive rebounds.
Old friend Jermaine Taylor, who played for the Red Claws from 2013-2015, proceeded to steal a Mickey pass and start a fast break that resulted in a 78-76 lead, the first for Salt Lake City since the game’s opening minutes.
“To be honest, I think the first half was a bit of fool’s gold,” Red Claws Coach Scott Morrison said. “They missed nine free throws, missed two open layups and a dunk. We talked about that at halftime. I didn’t think we were playing as well as a nine-point lead would suggest.”
Losing the lead seemed to light a fire beneath the home team. Mickey ducked beneath the basket for a reverse lay-in.
Marcus Georges-Hunt followed with a 3-pointer from the right corner and finished off a fast break. Jones found a favorable match-up and backed his defender into the paint for a short bank shot.
If not for Taylor, who scored nine straight Salt Lake City points, the Claws might have clinched this one earlier. As it was, Nader, Cameron Ayers and then Jones twice hit deep shots to propel a 14-5 run that gave Maine its biggest margin, 99-86, with 2:32 remaining.
The final 3-pointer from Jones came from the right wing with DeAndre Bembry, a 2016 first-round draft pick on assignment from the Atlanta Hawks, flying over to defend. The arc seemed high enough to scrape paint off the Expo roof, allowing for a dramatic pause before plunging through the net.
“That,” Morrison said, “might have been the boost we needed to get over the hump.”
Jones is currently ranked 11th among all prospects in the D-League.
Nine of the top 10 already have spent time in the NBA, with Nader at No. 4 the lone exception because of his contract status as a Draft Rights Player meaning only the Celtics can call him up, and only after removing someone else from their 15-man roster.
“I’m kind of wondering when one of the NBA teams might give him a shot, the way he’s been playing.” Morrison said of Jones. “You see guys get called up every week that I don’t think are as tough as him. He’s got to just keep sprinting to the finish line here and hope it works out for him. I think he deserves a chance.”
NOTES: Center Dallas Lauderdale, who injured a knee in his first minute of action Thursday night, did not play and is expected to be evaluated Monday. … Nothing new on the Guerschon Yabusele front. A first-round draft pick by the Celtics from France, Yabusele attended a recent game in Boston and has signed a D-League contract, but does not yet have clearance to join the Red Claws. … Taylor came off the bench to score a team-high 17 points for Salt Lake City, which has lost four in a row. “It’s always fun to come back,” Taylor said. “This was really my first go at the D-League here (in Portland), so I really appreciate all the love.” The only holdovers still with the Red Claws from Taylor’s days in Maine are Morrison and center Asauhn Dixon-Tatum. … Maine returns to action Thursday at the Expo against Canton.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or