PORTLAND – The new-look Maine Red Claws remain as enigmatic as ever, equally capable of dominating an opponent and looking lost in the same game.

Sunday was a perfect example.

The Red Claws ran out to a 14-point lead in the first quarter, squandered it in the middle two periods, fought back from an eight-point deficit to tie the game, then lost it in the final second.

JamesOn Curry banked in a straight-on 3-pointer to lift the Springfield Armor to a 100-97 victory over the Red Claws before an announced crowd of 3,045 at the Portland Expo. It was Springfield’s first win at the Expo in 10 games over two seasons.

“Sometimes as a team, we tend to relax,” said forward DeShawn Sims, who led the Red Claws with 25 points and tied the game at 97 with a leaning jumper. “And you can’t do that when you’re playing in this league. You can’t hold a lead by not doing what it takes to protect it.

“We’ve shown flashes of being a good team. We just need consistency from the whole team.”

Amazingly, despite five consecutive losses and a 14-26 record, the Red Claws remain in playoff contention with 10 games to play. And that’s what keeps them going these days.

“We’ve just got to figure out how to put a complete game together,” said veteran guard Mario West, who led the Red Claws’ last-minute rally with his defense. “It’s just the little things that are hurting us right now, a missed box out, an assignment, not executing on the offensive end. It’s just the little things that we have to do to get over the hump.”

Maine played flawlessly in the game’s first seven minutes, hounding Springfield on defense and pushing the ball offensively. The result was an 18-4 lead that seemed so easy to come by. The Red Claws held the lead at nine after one quarter but Springfield tied the game at the half (49-49) and then took control in the third.

During that stretch, the Red Claws gave up a lot of easy looks to the Armor — Springfield hit 9-of-14 3-pointers in the final three quarters — and stood around offensively, playing 1-on-1 ball rather than team ball. Maine had eight assists in the first quarter, only 13 over the final three.

“We do that sometimes,” said shooting guard Jamar Smith. “We’ve just got to adjust and learn from our mistakes.”

The Armor (11-28) led 74-69 after three, getting big games from its bench, which outscored Maine, 69-26. Jerry Smith had a game-high 27 points, scoring 13 in the fourth quarter and hitting 5 of 6 3-pointers. Gavin Edwards scored 23 and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Springfield maintained an eight-point lead throughout most of the fourth. The Red Claws would pull within two a couple of times — once on a poster-worthy dunk by Kenny Hayes over Smith. But the Armor always seemed to have an answer, even when the Red Claws were playing good defense.

“We had so many possessions where we played great defense, and they hit a garbage shot at the (shot-clock buzzer),” said Austin Ainge, coach of the Red Claws.

It was 97-88 Springfield with 2:04 left after Smith hit the last of his 3s, a bomb from the left wing set up by former Red Claw Eugene Spates. Then West clamped down. He intercepted an ill-timed behind-the-back pass from Scottie Reynolds and turned it into a layup.

Then he intercepted a Reynolds pass into traffic, scoring the layup and was fouled by Spates. He completed the three-point play to pull Maine within four. Then he stripped Smith of the ball at midcourt and went in for a layup and suddenly the Red Claws were within 97-95.

“I had a couple of turnovers, some missed turnovers,” said West. “So personally I felt like I was letting my team down. So I wanted to make some kind of impact to make up for the things that I was messing up on. That’s about playing with your heart.”

Magnum Rolle blocked Smith’s layup attempt, setting up Sims’ tying shot. He got the ball on the left, drove to the middle and scored with 22.2 seconds left.

Springfield Assistant Kevin Whitted, who was coaching the Armor while Coach Dee Brown watched from the bench (he was evaluating players), set up the play for Curry.

“The pro game is about making sure you put the ball in the hands of the right people,” said Whitted. “JamesOn can score. He’s been doing that since he was eight. I asked him, ‘Where do you want the ball?’ He said, ‘Anywhere.’ “

Curry got the ball and was fouled by Antonio Anderson with 8.7 seconds left.

On the ensuing in-bounds pass, he sprinted into the backcourt to receive the ball then calmly dribbled closer.

He got near the 3-point line and let it go, with Anderson in his face. The ball banked off the backboard with .3 seconds left, and Springfield had the win.

“Man, we played great,” said Ainge. “The ball just didn’t seem to bounce our way.”

NOTES: Guard Craig Winder, acquired Friday from Rio Grande for a sixth-round draft pick in 2011, made his Red Claws’ debut at the start of the second quarter. He hit his first shot and assisted on a 3-pointer by Sims. He finished with six points and two assists. … The five consecutive losses ties a franchise record.

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

[email protected]


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