For the second game in a row, the Maine Red Claws rallied from a large first-half deficit only to come up short in the final minute.

The Iowa Energy beat Maine 101-96 Thursday night before a crowd of 2,079 at the Portland Expo.

The Red Claws whittled a 23-point deficit to two points late in the third quarter but could come no closer and lost for the fifth time in six games.

“A great Canadian coach, Dave Nutbrown, once said, ‘Moral victories are for losers,’ ” said Red Claws Coach Scott Morrison, a Prince Edward Islander himself. “That’s two games in a row we had a moral victory of having a good second half because we stunk it up in the first half.”

Earlier this season, as the Claws burst out of the gate with a 16-4 record, Morrison said he prefers to break down the 50-game D-League season into chunks of 10. After going 8-2 in each of the first two segments, the Claws are 2-6 in a stretch that has seen them lose point guard Tim Frazier (who signed a 10-day contract with the Philadelphia 76ers earlier Thursday), fellow All-Star Chris Babb (missed his fifth straight game with a knee injury), veteran guard Jermaine Taylor (traded to Idaho in late January) and super-sub Andre Stringer (out for a seventh game with ankle injury).

“Everyone’s going to make a turnover or mess up a play or miss an open shot, but right now we’re getting outworked, especially in first halves,” Morrison said. “We don’t have enough firepower to let a team get more effort than we do. We’ve got to try and be solid, outwork them, play as a team. That’s what we did in the first 20 games. Even though we have less depth now because of injuries, we could still be winning a lot of these games if we approached it the same way as we did at the start.”

To make up for Frazier’s absence, the Celtics sent second-year guard Phil Pressey up to Maine for his D-League debut. He scored 34 points on 11-of-25 shooting, handed out nine assists and grabbed seven rebounds to go along with six turnovers.

Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, told Pressey early Thursday he ought to drive up to Maine to get in some work. A reserve guard with the Celtics, Pressey had only seen 17 minutes of action in the last six Celtics games.

“I’m happy I did,” Pressey said afterward. “I needed to play. I need the conditioning, the opportunity to get better.”

Damien Wilkins (son of Gerald and nephew of Dominique) led Iowa (16-12) with 22 points and Chris Allen added 22. Wilkins swished a half-court heave to beat the buzzer at the end of the first quarter and give Iowa a 34-17 lead.

It was 57-41 at halftime but with Pressey leading the charge, the Red Claws opened the third quarter with a 10-0 run kept the margin to single digits for most of the fourth quarter.

“I told your coach afterward that I thought he’s doing an incredible job,” said Iowa Coach Bob Donewald. “When you’re missing the main guys, and all of a sudden bench guys have to get major minutes, it can result in tough losses. We were getting ready to blow you guys out. I thought he did an outstanding job of getting this game close and making it interesting.”

Jason Calliste chipped in with 16 points for Maine. Christian Watford added 13 and Ralph Sampson 11.

NOTES: Frazier averaged 15.9 points, 8.9 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game and, along with Babb, was voted by league coaches to play in the D-League All-Star Game later this month in Brooklyn. … Old friend Romero Osby, who averaged 16.2 points in 12 games with the Red Claws last season, is coming back for a second tour after a stint in France.

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

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