February 25, 2010

Claws pick right man for the job


— By

Special to the Press Herald

BOISE, Idaho — Nothing about the first 47 minutes of Monday's game indicated that Mario West was destined to be the hero.

But West got the ball with the game on the line, and his driving basket with six-tenths of a second left lifted the Maine Red Claws to a 113-111 victory over the Los Angeles D-Fenders in the D-League Showcase at Qwest Arena.

West finished with 14 points but his winning 2-pointer was only his third field goal in 12 attempts. With Billy Thomas (22 points, season-high seven 3-pointers) and Tony Bobbitt (12 points on four 3s) shooting well, it seemed unlikely the Maine player having the worst shooting day would be handed the responsibility of deciding the game.

But Coach Austin Ainge had no qualms making such a decision.

''He's our best finisher off the dribble,'' Ainge said after the Red Claws improved to 11-3 with their third straight victory. ''It depends on matchups and all that, but he's tough to handle and I have all the confidence in him.''

West was up to the challenge, and the finish atoned for a performance that disappointed him. ''I didn't shoot the ball particularly well and my teammates picked me up,'' West said. ''I'm a little bit thankful for my teammates trusting me to be in that position, and I really just wanted to redeem myself, to be honest, because I wasn't happy with my performance. We got it done.''

Reserve point guard Will Blalock contributed a season-high 14 assists and helped eight Red Claws score in double figures. Maine shot 68.8 percent (11 of 16) from 3-point range while Los Angeles was just 5 of 18 (27.8) from beyond the arc.

Thomas didn't score in the final quarter but was a key figure most of the game. After making just 3 of 17 3-point attempts and shooting 8 of 33 overall in the previous three games, Thomas connected on 7 of 9 3-pointers against Los Angeles (7-6), including four in the third quarter.

''I felt like I was in a two- or three-game shooting slump,'' Thomas said. ''The guys were finding me (Monday) and the shots happened to go in. More concentration, more opportunities.

''I've been waiting for a night like this to get back to shooting well and being a leader out there.''

The hot outside shooting countered Los Angeles' inside dominance. The D-Fenders got 22 points and 14 rebounds from Diamon Simpson and 22 points and 11 rebounds from Michael Fey, while scoring 68 points in the paint. The Red Claws were outrebounded, 51-41.

Blalock had 11 of his 14 assists in the second half and gave the Red Claws 27 solid minutes.

''I thought maybe the story tonight was Will Blalock coming off the bench and running our team,'' Ainge said. ''He had 14 assists, which is just huge.

''He's had his role changed here and there, and he really came through for us tonight.''

Noel Felix and Darnell Lazare added 14 points apiece for the Claws.

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