December 14, 2013

Red Claws come back in Springfield

A strong second half averts a possible losing streak.

By Fran Sypek
Special to the Telegram

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — In danger of their first two-game losing streak this season, the Maine Red Claws dug down deep Saturday night, overcoming a nine-point halftime deficit to beat the Springfield Armor 102-95 at the MassMutual Center before 1,666 fans.

With 4:58 left, Kam Taylor connected on a pair of free throws to knot the score at 86-86 and set the stage for a wild finish.

He then curled a layup around a maze of defenders with 3:09 left as the Red Claws regained the lead, 90-88, and after the teams traded buckets, Taylor scored again to push Maine’s edge to four points, 94-90.

The Armor refused to go away, making it a two-point-game before a pair of free throws by Chris Wright made it 94-92 with 1:25 remaining.

The lead increased to 98-94 before Chris Babb (18 points) hit a crucial layup with 29.2 seconds left.

As was the case in the Armor’s 92-81 victory over the Red Claws on Friday, Springfield played outstanding defense and forced uncharacteristic Portland turnovers.

But the Red Claws finally got their game in order.

“This was a big win, especially bouncing back like we did after we lost to them on Friday,” said Wright, who led the Red Claws with 26 points.

The Red Claws knew that the Armor is a much better team than their 1-6 record. This is a New England rivalry game that is always played at a high-intensity level.

“Their record is not who they are,” Wright said. “That’s a good team we beat.”

What forced the Red Claws into comeback mode was the way the Armor was able to run, coupled with Springfield’s smaller guards fnding a way to grab key rebounds.

“This time, we were able to knock down our free throws,” Wright said. “Last time we were here, we left 16 points at the free throw line.”

The Red Claws started slow. Defense appeared to be a lost art as the Armor vaulted to a nine-point halftime lead.

Among Portland’s first-half woes: Ten turnovers by the normally ball-savvy Red Claws.

“We gave them too many second chances and their guards seemed to be scoring at will,” Wright said.

An ill-timed long pass was picked off by Springfield, and Willie Reed followed up on it with a slam dunk to put the Armor ahead 43-36 with 4:10 remaining in the first half.

The Red Claws just could not get into a flow prior to intermission. Springfield seemed to capitalize on nearly ever Maine mistake, which forced the Red Claws into playing catch-up in the second half.

The Armor finished the first half with a 6-0 run. Reed beat the buzzer with a jam (that was upheld after a review) and the Armor held a 53-44 halftime lead.

The Red Claws again were without 6-foot-8 forward Romero Osby, who injured his hamstring during a 93-89 win at Springfield on Dec. 8 and has since been sidelined.

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