PORTLAND – On a scale of 1 to 10, Austin Ainge gave it a 2.

“It wasn’t pretty,” said the Maine Red Claws’ coach.

Didn’t matter. The Red Claws won Thursday night, overcoming a 14-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Dakota Wizards 99-95 in overtime at the Portland Expo.

On a cold-shooting night — caused by the shot-blocking of the Wizards (14 blocks, eight by Chris Johnson) and the absence of 3-point shooter Jamar Smith (calf injury) — the Red Claws relied on defense in the second half and overtime to win their sixth consecutive home game.

“It was a fight,” said center Tiny Gallon, who played sparingly in the first half after getting poked in the right eye, but finished with 13 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.

The Red Claws (9-9) snapped a two-game losing skid, while Dakota (4-14) endured its fifth consecutive loss.

“In the past, when we shot 5 for 21, 23 percent from the 3-point line, we lose because we’re a perimeter-oriented small-ball team right now,” Ainge said. “So I was happy our defense picked up in the second half.

“We gutted one out. Sometimes the shots aren’t falling, sometimes we don’t play our best. We were able to get a win.”

The Wizards didn’t get a basket in overtime, scoring three points at the foul line. The Red Claws, meanwhile, got two huge hoops.

Leading 94-93, Matt Janning (starting for Smith at the point) drove the middle and flicked a shot over the outstretched hand of Johnson, the ball dropping onto the front rim, then in. After Darren Cooper hit two foul shots to bring the Wizards within one with 45 seconds left, Mario West knocked down a huge shot.

DeShawn Sims, who scored a game-high 26 points, missed from the left baseline but the Red Claws fought for the rebound, which Sims eventually grabbed. He ended at the top of the key and drove the middle, pitching out to West on the right wing. West’s jumper was a swish with 14.1 seconds left, giving the Red Claws a 98-95 lead.

After a timeout, Gallon then stole the inbounds pass at midcourt, leading to a foul shot by Sims with 10 seconds left.

“It was ugly, ugly, but we found a way to get it done,” said West, who had nine points on Mario West bobblehead night (and also had a monstrous spinning one-handed dunk). “The team stuck together and that’s really what it’s all about.”

Janning, who had 17 points and committed only one turnover after the first quarter, agreed.

“It wasn’t the best we could play,” he said. “I think we’ve proved that before. It’s the same thing with this team, we go through stretches when we play real good, then we go through stretches where we don’t make shots offensively and play lackadaisical on defense. We’ve got to find a way to play a full game.”

Maine had the early advantage but the Wizards went on a 16-4 run, sparked by Renaldo Major (19 points) and Anthony Goods (18), to start the second quarter and led 54-42 at the half, blocking 11 shots.

But Maine went on a 12-0 run early in the third. It was 69-69 heading into the fourth.

NOTES: Eugene Spates took a shot to the ribs in the first quarter and didn’t play the rest of the first half. He hit three 3-pointers in the second half. Danny Ainge, the president of basketball operations for the Boston Celtics (and father of the Red Claws coach), was present for the second time this season.

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

[email protected]


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