His shots clanked off the rim, his man grabbed too many offensive rebounds, and at one point he even dribbled the ball off his foot.

“It definitely wasn’t his best night,” Red Claws Coach Scott Morrison said of forward Omari Johnson.

But when Westchester pulled within two points with two minutes remaining Saturday night, point guard Tim Frazier fed Johnson on the left wing and Johnson made his only 3-pointer of the game, lifting the Red Claws to a 96-92 NBA D-League victory before a crowd of 1,662 at the Portland Expo.

“I knew he was going to make one for us,” said Frazier, who doled out seven assists to go along with three steals, eight rebounds and 14 points, including a contested dunk that left him writhing on the floor under the basket late in the first half. “We’d been telling him the whole time to continue to shoot.”

After surpassing 20 points in three of his previous four games, Johnson managed only five Saturday night on 2-of-9 shooting. But his seven rebounds were second only to Chris Babb’s nine as the Claws (11-2) won their seventh in a row and extended their unbeaten home streak to seven.

“You have to stay confident,” Johnson explained. “You shoot a thousand shots a week in preparation for streaks when you’re off. When you’re on, it doesn’t matter. But when you’re off, that’s what you prepare for and practice for.”

It was the fourth straight game with a nine-man roster for the injury-riddled Red Claws and second game in as many nights. Westchester (5-9) had it even worse. The Knicks played in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on Friday night and in Canton, Ohio, on Wednesday night.

“I have to give credit to them,” Morrison said of the Knicks, who jumped to a seven-point lead early in the game and never trailed by more than eight. “This is their third game in four days, they just got in here (Saturday) and they really didn’t quit.”

Westchester pulled down 18 offensive rebounds and scored 22 points on second chances, but missed 11 of 12 from 3-point range before Langston Galloway (21 points) and Todd Mayo (11) hit two in the final 25 seconds.

“They beat us up on the glass,” Morrison said. “The last thing I said to the guys was, we’ve got to respect their effort and be prepared for them five more times. They’ve got some tough matchups and tough kids out there.”

Chief among them was a 6-foot-7-inch native of Greece named Thanasis Antetokounmpo, whose older brother, Giannis, plays in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks.

“They call his brother ‘The Greek Freak,'” Morrison said. “He’s not too far behind in terms of athleticism. He really killed us on the glass, killed us in transition. It wasn’t something we didn’t know he was going to be, he’s just a really tough guy to stop.”

Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 22 points. Chris Babb led Maine with 21 and hit four 3-pointers. Andre Stringer came off the bench to knock down three from long range (in six attempts) and play tough defense down the stretch.

“He’s probably our best on-the-ball defender,” Morrison said of the 5-foot-9 Stringer. “He’s one of our best defenders overall. And if we have a lead late in the game, he’s the kind of guy we want out there, just for his defense. The fact that he can stretch the floor, if he knocks a couple down, makes him that much more valuable.”

Maine drained its last six free throws and eight of its last 10 to seal the victory. Ralph Sampson III swished two with 20 seconds left after missing three of his previous four from the line.

“I think it was just toughness,” Stringer said.

“We made a few mistakes. I made a key turnover. But for the most part, we executed well, got stops when we needed them and we got big rebounds and we knocked down free throws. That was the biggest thing.”

Jermaine Taylor added 17 points for the Claws, who head to Iowa on Christmas Day for a game the following night.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.